by Cynthia Hogue

Page 3

My perspective was experiential, and therefore the symptoms did exist. The diminishment of cognitive skills was real--and for me, really problematic! I began to think I had Alzheimer's or perhaps early menopauses. My short term memory grew so bad that I forgot a poetry reading I was to give, brought the wrong student's Masters thesis to a defense, drove across the Mississippi (when living in New Orleans) because I forgot to get off at my exit (in fact, could no longer remember why I had gotten into the car), became very dyslexic, and grew eerily obsessive. Here is what I wrote at the time, since shaped into a sonnet, with a title from Dickinson that was, for the first time, concretized in my mind by my body's experience:

All fall I waited (in a high tide
of pain, neck, toes, knees, fingers
stiffen and do not move) for
joint damage, climbing one stair
at a time. Pain I tried to ignore
became fact; bearing it made
the days "good" or "bad." Sometimes
with shooting pain and sometimes
with a dream I could not dream
of sleep. This body I did
not know or want was not a dream,
nor a trapped-inside-of fate
that leaves as it came, rolling back,
a tide going out when one wakes.

Whatever it was took "me," my identity as a writer and teacher, away. There was no "one" left, just some "body," and Dickinson's words again haunt the experience as I fumbled for the words to say it:

Almost comforting, cradling &
claustrophobic, the metal tube
surrounds you with driving sound,
your head strapped in
so you won't move.
The technician's voice floats
through the little mike: "All
right in there? Are you still
all right?" You're told half
an hour but it's fifty minutes.
You get cold, pretend you're
in space, hurtling toward Mars,
you chant though you know
they can hear you
as they scan your brain
deeper than the sea
& differing from God
as syllable from sound.
Later, when you huddle
on a metal table, they
position your feet, your hands,
so they can take a picture
& see you through & through,
light cast from above
the machine marks you
first with a cross, then
a slanted star, at last a stained
glass window of a church.
"Don't breathe," they call,
               & you don't.

As this poem suggests, I recall this time in my life with a still-symptomatic disassociation: a Dickinsonian, "element of blank," and once the rheumatoid arthritis grew pronounced, an eternal present and presence of physical pain, "itself--/ Its Infinite contain."

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