the locked medicine chest (a series of poems)


August 15, 2014 by rebelwithalabelmaker

i am nostalgic for the days when it was my fault
for being white
sent home after an operation, she spent days just
the pain started in her abdomen
and began to sprawl out
settling in the spaces between her ribs
corralling her breath into tight spaces until her voice was
she became settled land
pressed against the bed
flat and silent as ironed white sheets
by the time she is brought into the ER
she has been made loud
clothed in wires and tubes and flashing red and blue lights
they wonder why she waited so long to say something was wrong
and tell her that now she is infested with
this time it is in a hospital
but it could just as easily be a courtroom
or a school
this time it is medicine
that seems to give way underneath her in
these subtle ways
this time it is my husband
who comes home,
carrying the despair and fury of defeat
crouched tensely
on the back of his neck
my first thought is how i would have spoken up
in her shoes
i would have known that the world should not be as
as that
i would have called for help
confident in the draw of my own voice
i would not have waited for my bleeding
to speak for me
“that’s what i thought, too”
he answers me
“the first time”
he points out how i was taught speech
in ways that go beyond words
how i was given a voice inflated with the sounds of sirens
each ritual of medicine fits around my culture
with the unnoticeable protection
of a surgeon’s glove
i think about how her blood has generations of practice in 
being told it does not fit
being seen as a complication of the landscape
an entire generation quarantined
sterilized, clumsily laundered
given new creases
and ironed flat into proper rows
where i have been groomed into assertiveness
she has become practiced in
even his uniform
he tells me
his scrubs, his suit, his very haircut
are all signs of authority
cues to compliance and silence
i don’t pretend to understand all the reasons that she didn’t speak up
or at least
didn’t speak up in a way that they could hear her
she is mottled with history and culture and callouses
and the camouflage has become
so thick
that to some eyes she is no more than
in the wee hours of the morning he is looking over her chart
drifts of white paper in which they have meticulously recorded
her temperature, respiratory rate, bloodwork
i do not understand how there could be so much information
and yet
so much of her still left
“patient history”
the textbook said
they meant something else
that has nothing to do with history
or with patience
i am nostalgic for the days when it was my fault
for being white
when my mind moved in choreographed patterns around certain thoughts
and the sandpapering grate of guilt was something i just
lived with
even the phrase “do the right thing”
carries a kind of comforting lie
that the cure to this
is somehow held in something as simple as
my actions
which can be diagnosed and treated and fixed
there is a comforting implication
that all the power is
even now, there are days when my every footstep on this land
cringes under the weight of our mutual history
and the cacophony of my own blame and absolution
drowns out everything else
it is easier to apologize
than it is to listen
summers up at lac la ronge
the brown skinned little boy pointed to the bushes saying
“right there–right in front of us!  how come you can’t see it?”
when i insisted he was lying, he tossed a pebble at the rabbit
so it would move
i was sad later
wondering if he hurt it
just so it would become visible to me
i wished i knew how to fix white eyes, back then
as sure as now, i wish i could dilate my mind so i could
perceive certain
subtle things
mistaken for no more than
this is why they insisted so long ago
that we smoke a pipe together first
a treaty is only a treaty
within a relationship
like a person is only a person
while their heart is still beating
we will not heal this land and its people
by starting with the paperwork

3 thoughts on “the locked medicine chest (a series of poems)

  1. Erica says:

    These are really great, Liz!

  2. Sandi says:

    Superb! Really very very good! I enjoyed this and read it several times.

  3. Mike says:

    Hurting someone, or something, just by being you is paralyzing and horrific. Race, the environment, children, spouse…

    Your poems hurt me… In the way of hastily ripping off a Band-Aid when you’ve waited two weeks for the healing only to discover a dark purple starting to creep up the vein.

    Nice 😉

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