Once in the vast middle of pain—pain stopped,
and a certain clarity descended.
In the sudden effortlessness of being, I could
forget the body. I stayed perfectly still,
caught up in wanting it to last,
this unexpected innocence born of the body’s permission.
Minutes passed before I had to move,
and pain came riding back, rising and twisting,
this time trying to throw me across the room.
She was the big wind coming through windows I couldn’t close,
turning over the orchids I loved, splattering the dirt.
If she wanted, I’d be on the floor weeks later,
still falling, and she’d bring the walker in to stay,
to remind me she owned it all. I was just furniture
that needed dumping. I was a dropped clock
and time had turned to serve her, my every second
belonged to her. She said just die.
Submission is not such a terrible thing: she knew
how to play me out with her pills, her bribes.
I give up I said, and that was how she knew
she could release me for those minutes
and I could be my own country, in charge of my little self—
the thinking and planning that had once been the sum of me.
Later, I could see how this leniency was only to show
how easy it was for her to get me back.
Mother, I cried, and cursed my infant cries.
When I can’t walk I think of you. I catch
your light in my mirror and see it
find my sallow cheek, the failing line
of jaw. Without looking, I can feel
that grimace or wince overtake me,
just a second’s worth of you
in the future of my face.
Nothing fails to remind me—a finger on my arm,
a twisting in my back when I turn too fast
and fall. Tired of my arrogance, you are behind me
with time to show how you felt
to be a shell left empty and waiting.
So it is that I steer my body out of the crowded
what-has-been. Because of you,
I’ve come to love a broken thing.
Excerpted from After the Body by Cleopatra Mathis. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Sarabande Books.