Archive for March 21st, 2009


As humans, we breath. We sip the ethers in and out all day and night, mindlessly, day after day. We recognize the warmth of the sun, the crumb under bare foot in the morning, a Spring breeze unsettling our hair when stepping out onto the porch, the far-off smell of dirt finally thawing… countless notations over a lifetime.

Seldom do we note our breath, until we notice our mortality.

I’ve been making good friends with the local hospital. It’s bright and clean and, as of late, a frequent destination for my family and me. My mother-in-law’s been a client twice in two months and my immediate loved ones have discovered the ease of the inexpensive cafeteria. The entrance to the building is marked by a Madonna on the rocks, eyes humbly cast down, arms spread with supplicant grace and quiet welcome.

It’s Wednesday. I pull into a slice of parking space and looked toward the entryway uneasily. Breath. Look at the steering wheel. Let go. Breath. “Wear your big girl panties”, Joey says. I think he means breath. I unlatch my belt and walk to the door, alone. I pull my black, wool coat to me. Down the hallway, I wait at the elevator. I notice the heels of my shoes and the textured pattern in the carpet. I am aware that I am pushing forward in time, one moment at a time. I inhale and exhale slowly.

The hospital staff is warm and efficient. Some recognize me and tender smiles, compliments, support. Today, they are all women of my age. I pass time in the waiting room, noting that every article and advertisement seems to sport a small pink ribbon doubled back on itself. Breath.

Pre-op prep takes place. I’m covered by a curtain, one thin blanket and a papery gown. I’m not used to being still. It’s hard. I breath in, experiencing the back of my throat and my expanding lungs. I look up at the orderly panels of the ceiling. I wait.

My nurse is Colleen. How ironic. I had just rediscovered my best friend from early childhood, Colleen, on Facebook the night before. A five-year old Colleen had taught me how to ride a bike, to love the woods, and just maybe how to really treasure friendship.

Colleen brings me more warmed blankets and hides my jewelry under my gurney. After an hour of listening to murmuring souls passing along the corridor, I am wheeled into another waiting area. A statue of St. Patrick keeps watch in this room, Tyrone Power in a beard, miter and flowing green robes. I watch the clock. I cannot forget to breath. A nurse named Meagan carefully marks the left side of my neck with indelible pen, a tattoo to lead the surgeon. Breath. The elderly woman in the curtained area adjacent to mine is confused. She doesn’t know what side of her body they will be cutting into.

Finally, I am wheeled into the metallic brightness of the operating room. It’s silvered lights and odd geometry are striking. We humans are soft in its angles. I skirt from the gurney to the table and lay my arms straight out at my sides to be strapped down, as open and helpless as the crucified. I breath, focus on the light, the calm voices of the experienced staff, the cutting antiseptic smells that permeate the room. I will myself to breath instead of holding onto my breath. The pharmaceutical drip begins and I forget what is going on.

They think I am here. I am not, though I continue to converse, even laugh. I will live through watching the surgery in a mirrored surface, a small piece of flesh pulled from my side. Later, I will see that the entirely surreal experience that took seven minutes will last well beyond the confines of time.

Back under Colleen’s care, I insist that I am good to go, ready to start off again, good as new, but she wheels me into a shadowed bay. I drift into sleep. Medicated breathing comes easy. I am helpless and it’s okay.

I am roused after an hour and gently pushed to assume my former self. I sit at the side of my cradle and pull the bedding to my chest, aware of my exposed back and the needle still protruding from the back of my hand. Colleen ministers to my needs. She then helps me to my feet, finds my belongings and pulls the curtain closed so that I may rediscover my dignity by myself. Breath for clarity. Breath for assurance. Breath because there is no other way. I shakily put on my heels and pretend to face the demon that is the afternoon.

Over the next few 24-hours, I wait, sometimes at the desk, sometimes behind the wheel of the car, on the cell phone or lying in bed. How automatic each contraction of the muscles in my chest is. Fate is air. It surrounds and sustains us. It is ever present and doled out in small puffs. I think of all of the breathing I have done, in short fits and swallows.

And somewhat surprisingly, because I thought myself so whole, I discover how desirous I am of continuing on… each breath the kiss of life, one at a time. So that’s it! I want to live. I want it very badly, beyond the involuntary movement of the shell I inhabit. I breath this moment in. I breath out. I move on and let go.

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Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, ‘We are All Writing God’s Poem’

by Barbara Crooker

Today, the sky’s the soft blue of a work shirt washed
a thousand times. The journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step. On the interstate listening
to NPR, I heard a Hubble scientist
say, “The universe is not only stranger than we
think, it’s stranger than we can think.” I think
I’ve driven into spring, as the woods revive
with a loud shout, redbud trees, their gaudy
scarves flung over bark’s bare limbs. Barely doing
sixty, I pass a tractor trailer called Glory Bound,
and aren’t we just? Just yesterday,
I read Li Po: “There is no end of things
in the heart,” but it seems like things
are always ending—vacation or childhood,
relationships, stores going out of business,
like the one that sold jeans that really fit—
And where do we fit in? How can we get up
in the morning, knowing what we do? But we do,
put one foot after the other, open the window,
make coffee, watch the steam curl up
and disappear. At night, the scent of phlox curls
in the open window, while the sky turns red violet,
lavender, thistle, a box of spilled crayons.
The moon spills its milk on the black tabletop
for the thousandth time.

“Poem on a Line by Anne Sexton, ‘We are All Writing God’s Poem'” by Barbara Crooker, from Line Dance. © Word Press, 2008.

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