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illness

Attending

December 3, 2020

I can’t tell you why I rented the theater downtown, other than that it was inevitable, like the notes of a song. Facing the rows of empty velvet seats, I felt the thrust of potential. At night, doctors stood on stage telling stories—not of helicopter rides and loss of blood, but of waffling, of wanting, of grappling with themselves. The audience arrived like spirits, craving not entertainment but something more fundamental and urgent. I sat backstage, eyes closed, living and dying in every pause, every ripple of laughter. This—a live storytelling event by those in health care, for those in health care—was the first thing I had ever originated, one that came from the roiling place inside of me and not a script.

 

Franz Kafka, a drawing from Diaries, 1910–1923, 1948.

The Missing Person

In July 1908, a twenty-five-year-old Franz Kafka quit his post at the Assicurazioni Generali with a medical note claiming he was suffering from “nervousness” and something potentially complicated having to do with his heart.

Poem

1. Dad, Don’t Be That Guy

2. Dad, Quoting the Wikipedia Isn’t Gospel

3. Dad, I’m Going to Take Those Away

4. Dad, I Warned You

To wear a vigorous shirt. At See-See Coffee

       in the bathroom, a sticker on the hot-water tank 
 says, It only takes one or two 

seconds to become 
 helpless in flowing grain, or among flowering graves, 
            down where the boats are being unloaded. 
   It happens so swift, that one 

Illustration by Melody Newcomb

Annihilation

It was the winter that I had spent bleeding, attuned to no particular rhythm. Sometimes my period would come on twice in one month, or last for four weeks instead of one. Or, in between spells of bleeding, I would find rust-colored specks in my underwear, or else what seemed like rivers of blood, dark and sticky as blackberry jam. Mostly, it hurt only a little, a pain I could store in the back of my mind and ignore. Sometimes when I was on my feet all day I would feel woozy and cold, and when I went home at night I’d lie awake for a long time, wondering as I turned from my back to my stomach whether there was some position that might keep me from waking up with blood staining my sheets, like a marriage bed visited by an incubus. I took iron supplements. Eventually, I went to a doctor.

Illustration by Jon Krause

Vapors

Doc Aberdeen looks more like a bricklayer than a doctor. In the front hall he hangs his hat on a spoke. His hair is center-parted so exactly that his white scalp shows through.

Good for You

My wife and I, both in our late thirties, have a friend named Patricia who lives by herself in a very small apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Her taste is Japanese. Patricia is the mother of another good friend, a woman more or less our age [...]

Impossible Bottle. By Claudia Emerson. LSU, 2015. 65p. PB, $17.95.

Ecstatic Sorrow

Claudia Emerson, who died in December 2014, had come to be known as a poet capable of revealing startling discoveries inside quiet, quotidian circumstances. Her poems are set mostly in Southern rural and small-town scenes, moments in ordinary lives that would normally elude anyone else’s attention.

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