Impending Heart Attack in the Doldrums on the Anniversary of Her Death

Photo by Nikolay Loubet via Unsplash


The first draft of this poem owes its existence to false alarm. What I initially believed to be a heart attack was soon diagnosed as magnesium deficiency and corrected. What could not be corrected was my mother’s absence, whom I had lost the previous year. I was in deep mourning and contemplating my own mortality, as well as struggling with another bout of purposelessness–it used to come and go more often during those years. I was in-between treatments for aplastic anemia and not doing well, but was very aware of my propensity toward hypochondria, which my mother used to mention frequently during my childhood. I also mourned all the could have beens of our tumultuous relationship and her all too brief relationship with my children, who were still very young when she passed. There’s more to say, probably, but I’ll let the poem do its job. That’s what it’s for, I think. It speaks for me when I cannot say more.

Impending Heart Attack in the Doldrums on the Anniversary of Her Death


The neck, the shoulder, the arm. 
	The jawbone. You picture it 
		barren of flesh, 
	cracking a permanent grin. 
Inflicting minuscule damage, 
	given its laughable girth. 
		Forget the one thousand 
	men. This mandible 
of an ass can barely dispatch 
	one drunken fly.       
		Weak chin, your mother 
	said once. You agreed. 		
The brain names body parts, 
	assigning pain 
		where it must: 
	falsely enough to kill you. 
You greet a ghost as a purveyor 
	of meaning. What’s real is 
		irrelevant, unless 
	there’s more to it: the veil 
swept off—a flick of thought—to find 
	some queasy truth within. 
		Take love, for instance, 
	or motherhood: both 
cradle baby death sucking its thumb. 	
	Good morning, hypochondria! 
		the figment rolls her eyes, 
	forgetting she was so averse 
to being helped, she died of it. 
	What irony, to find yourself 
		not nearly as different 
	as you wished. 
You’ve waited half your life to die, 
	how do you know she didn’t? 
		Most people 
	beg for solace with no one there. 
What did you do to stave off 
	the untimely ‘fill in the blanks’? 
		You watched her 
	from afar: forlorn, derisive, 
crippled by guilt. 	
	I’ve lived now twice 
		as long as Christ—
	that’s more than enough, she’d say 
and all you did was nod.
	Not even forty then, how tired 
		you were, how weak 
	and how ashamed to want 
exactly what she had. 
	You’d shared a body 
		once, you’d earned 
	her laughter—why not 
her illness? 	Ah, the bliss 
	to pull apart the vise 
		squeezing your ribs, 
	the foolish hunger 
to hear her call you hers again. 
	Soon after, she went 
		and you stayed on. 
	You kept on staying. 
Now, that it’s closing in, the whopper 
	meant to cart you far away 
		from this god-awful 
	Land of Pointless Aches, 
your mother’s ghost flying ahead, 
	as she is wont to do, 
		what’s left to say? 
	No thank you, finally, 
no where have you been. 
	Only the recognition 
		that it’s time, that once 
	it’s over, no one will recall 
your name. So few do hers. 
	We are but shadows 
		of lives fully unlived, 
	shadows of poems 
ending none too soon.

First published in Clackamas Literary Review, Volume XXIV, 2020 (print only)

5 thoughts on “Impending Heart Attack in the Doldrums on the Anniversary of Her Death

Add yours

    1. Thank you, dear Manja—sending love as well. I agree—wholeheartedly. Despite all the terrible things going on in this world, there’s so much more that make it worth staying on as a witness and a participant.

      Liked by 1 person

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