That Time I Couldn't Speak

I have spent the past several weeks paying close attention to how and when I speak up in the midst of an administration that depends upon indifference to the violence and hate it nurtures. 

I have spent the past several weeks reading John Klapper's Nonconformist Writing in Nazi Germany. The title seems to suggest readers will be looking at authors of literature of protest in the face of fascism, but it isn't, not always. It includes the literature of what-can-I-do and please-not-me and how-will-we-go-on. I've been thinking about paralysis, and blame, and the gap between wanting to speak and speaking.

I have spent the past several weeks remembering that activism limited to social media posts is not sufficient and my voice can be heard elsewhere. My vote is heard elsewhere and my time and my showing up and my money are heard elsewhere. 

Mostly, I've been writing prose during all of this. But I wrote a poem the other day (Wednesday?) after talking with another writer about how it feels to want to speak but feel unable. (I really, really, really hope I'm not the type of person who brings up her own childbirthing experience every time she has a beer or a friendly ear nearby, but this time it did.) So I wrote. 

The difference between that afternoon four years ago and today is that, thankfully, I am not bleeding to death. My throat and brain are on good terms and when I can speak, I will. Language makes me feel ready. I feel as though I can clench my fists, open them, and still be holding a flower I thought I crushed.

That Time I Couldn’t Speak

It’s a Friday afternoon in 2014
and I am about to die.
My husband stands beside the gurney
in a swelling circle of my blood
telling me to stay where I am.

I can’t move so I stay
in the delivery room where my doctor
shouts into a crowd of surgeons
can anyone see where all this blood is coming from
with her hands up in front of her

as if to stop my death by command,
only my wound is unresponsive
as my bones and muscles are,
each of them observing the silence
of a suspected embolism.

My left arm is locked at a ninety-degree angle,
a half-finished reach toward my own face
and some loyal nerve in my brain
is calling for that arm to right itself
even as she, the brain, is capsizing.

It’s no use. The arm is clocked out.
One nurse yells eyes are fixed and dilated.
Another is nose to nose with me
wanting to know who the president is
and my faithful consciousness,

that last mindful cell, screams
Obama! Obama! Jesus Christ, Obama!
but the words earn no oxygen
and anyway the mouth is slack,
my good voice pinned

beneath the weight of flaccid lungs
filled with my husband’s confusion,
his shock rolling in like a smoke
I’ll need to clear as soon as I am stabilized,
refilled with the blood of strangers

who must also have shouted a truth
no one could hear, the name of a president
snuffed by the science of blood loss
and surprise, the overthrow

of one body in favor of another.


Amy Murray said…
Oh my god. This is tragic and alarming and so succinct that anyone reading it feels like they are in the room with you. As a nurse, it is a reminder of our presence during times like this, times when a brain and a body are frozen and we have to do the work of bringing someone back.

This is beautiful as it is frightening. Well done!

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