We Were So 19

We were so 19

that the world didn’t care if we slept

half the day, went to coffee with the professor

instead of class, and began the evening

just before midnight.  The usual crowd

could be counted on to greet us warmly,

as we scrambled off the city sidewalks

swallowed by our college life.  Beer, and

conversation, and the same familiar songs,

and we hugged and laughed and knew

19 would always be.  But it’s not.

Someone else is borrowing 19 now. 



Juliette Wears a White Bow in her Hair


Juliette wears a white bow in her hair.

Each morning, as the tent city awakens at daybreak, and the pangs

of relentless hunger return, she lifts her head from a pillow of rags to find

the white bow.  Her mother once tied it in her hair, before Port-au-Prince perished,

Mama was gone, and only hardship remained.  She crawls from the torn tent,

finds her sister, fixing the rocks that hold together their home.  Vacancy,

a void for what has been lost in her eight years.  Juliette studies her cracked feet,

hardened leather soles from years of walking with no shoes.  And the scabs

on her legs are shaped like flowers that don’t grow amid piles of trash and rubble

surrounding her.  Cholera called on their city, took so many, left Juliette uneasy,

a new vulnerability.  Nature is cruel and doesn’t care about her feelings, and Juliette

hates her back, with every cringe of her scant body.  She shudders.

Sister signals it is time to walk for water.  They must go early or they will have none.

Still in partial darkness, the sisters make their way uneasily through the weary paths

of the tent city.  Vulnerable and exposed, they move quickly in the muddy alleys.

The water walk they make daily is silent but has a song of scarcity and despair,

the sound of wind in a dried up riverbed. Juliette feels the song with each step.

They return, in the stifling Haiti sun, each with a bucket of water balanced on her head. 

Sometimes, in the heat, Juliette’s eyes start to swim and her head swirls, and her feet

feel as though they are sinking.  But she never forgets the sheer significance of water,

nor the burden she carries. One bucket of water will be saved for them, and one will buy

something to eat.  It is nearly all she thinks about:  food.  She is tired, depleted, and

leans back against a rock outside their torn tent, making a large circle in the dirt

with her fnger.  Smiling, she takes her dusty finger and makes her circle into a balloon.

Juliette wears a white bow in her hair.



(note: this photo is courtesy of Save the Children, Juliette is the child I sponsor in Haiti) 

Brain MRI, November 2012

Lie down on the MRI table; they’ll lay a sheet over you

like you’ve already died. And when you begin to shake,

the sheet moves with you in a gentle dance of fear, as they block

your head in, snap the cage around your face. Don’t move,

they say, and you will your body to stop its shake. Your head

is still because they’ve trapped it. The table slides deeper

into the glowing tube, swallowing you up like medical prey, and all

you do is close your eyes, hold your breath, and listen

to the sounds of a machine predicting your future.

Because you are trapped, and scared, cold and alone,

you let your mind go, and it travels back to summer days on the farm,

riding horses, raising lambs, stacking hay bales in the sun,

but it follows with a breath grabbing squeeze, remembering days

of being forgotten, left alone, rejected. You are still shaking.

As the machine scans your brain for tumor growth, your head

scans your mind, for joy and love, for when you listened and grew,

created. But it always follows with the haunt of a face, someone

you hurt, or let go. And you are sorry.

The machine stops its banging for a moment. The mind rests.

And then it begins again. It says sunsets are numbered. Are you living

every one? All of the stories you were meant to engage in are not told.

You have a full heart and a broken brain, and you still have not

written down all of the words. You shake, lift off the table, hover in the air.

You’re looking down on the machine holding your body below. Music.

Floating. Voices. Go where you are needed. Love with all you are.

Be light. Believe. The machine goes still, and they pull you out.

The test is over. You already know the results.