The First to Go

for Laura Melville, MD [ July 2020 ]

My grandmother’s diamond flung
from my ear to the floor, caught in the strap of my
N95 in my haste to yank free
a shout after too many muffled words 
had landed unheard.

To be safe I take out the rest of the studs, 
the line of five along my left ear, that I touch 
when I talk, when I think, when I need
to remind myself of myself.

So now I tug my naked lobes, touching 
nothing as I flip charts, find the names,
count the days. The oxygen worked.
It didn’t work. They are getting better. 
They are getting worse.

These days I get it wrong more 
than I get it right.

In a sea of plastic walls and plastic
windows of the ER I make a point to peer 
inside so I can see my patients’ faces. I don’t know 
how to answer their questions.

The place above my heart, beneath
my throat, naked now, remembers 
the sapphire: my stone of steady and light.
When I see a terror in a face that is too much,
my fingers find this place and pull
some peace from a deep, blue well,
there and not there.

The answers I am used to having have
slipped with the purple from my hair,
tired and over washed.
My head a nest of straw
tucked beneath a disposable cap.

I know new things now. Like how
the scent of the statement: “We need to put your mother on a vent”
is the stink of my own unwashed teeth
stale and hot inside my mask.

At home I fasten my familiar blue
stone, a gift from my love, around my neck.
I’ve added an older braided chain of gold.
I am not sure
why – it feels right.

I pedal and pedal my pandemic Peloton.
I sing to my love-sick bird and still
I can’t escape the wait,
the not knowing when
I will do this all again.

CAROLYNE MEEHAN