Where I Live
By Donna M. Lane
Blood is a secret. A secret no one will tell.
Blood has thousands of little books in it you can see
the covers of if you look at it under high magnification.
Blood is the reason for the rest of the body.
Blood is a ticket, when it is dried on pavement,
the shattered glass swept aside. It is a ticket
to whatever possesses blood bled here and almost
certainly died exsanguinated.
Exsanguinated. A shimmering but not crimson word.
Only blood is red. As long as white has a bit of pink in it,
there is hope. Everything, even death, heals up
in the imagination.
Blood was a ghost in a dark corridor.
Now it splashes on the white sleeve of my lab jacket.
I squeeze myself between disasters
and triage all the casualties of my nightmares.
I am standing beside a lady with emphysema,
holding a bowl under her mouth as my other arm
on her back connects me with her retching.
I should quit smoking, she says and sees
the blood in the bowl and looks at me.
We both know the fear of bleeding
and which one of us is bleeding
and which one is not.
I want to throw the bowl away and clean her lungs out
as if they were an old furnace, tighten all the loose
bolts of her machinery and go to bed.
But she is not a machine and I can do nothing about blood.
The palette of her illness, yellow and red and odorless
I dip into now, is without her name.
I am eating a sandwich in the back of an ambulance
while the driver goes down the street on the wrong side
and zooms over hills like a movie stuntman.
If I let myself be afraid I would be able to do nothing.
If I let myself be afraid for a second, I will be
immobilized. It feels heroic, medal of honor, but there
are no badges for going to work.
Blood all over the face. The face is a woman’s.
The arms are dangling. There is an oxygen mask over
the face. A nurse riding the gurney doing
chest compressions. The victim is a nun who jumped
from a convent window. Her habit is torn open.
Her underwear peeled off in the emergency room.
Her pubic mound like a hill of dry grass.
A nun. A suicide of clown colors that are not funny.
I am eating a sandwich in the back of an ambulance.
There is a piece of skin between miracle and garbage.
I am chewing on it.
Waiting to get to the top in this line
of sweltering people in swimwear,
I watch the victors falling down the chute
and slipping like well cast fishing lures
into the chlorinated aqua blue water,
most without screaming and many only children,
surfacing instantly to do it again.
I think of martyrs and penitents
throwing themselves from great heights,
John the Baptist pushing heads under
and suicide notes left in abandoned cars
explaining nothing of the wrenching ripping fall
into oblivion we stare at when we look over.
How much we all look alike nearly naked
old and young corralled on these stairs
quietly renting anonymity like an inner tube
yet hoping to lose it fast while everyone looks.
I want to cheat death and persecution
just like the others here in this barbecue smoke
in this giant frying pan of a valley with a smog lid
but recreational anxiety is a new ride for me.
I slide into it trying to stop the whole
sunny nightmare of sudden velocity
until the slap of impact and cold plunge
teach me something new about fun.
It begins at the end.
It is always the sole survivor.
I have to backtrack from my tears
and admit I never liked ballet much
but the beauty of what I understood
the physical challenge of each dancer
to become a musical and visual instrument
practicing and starving and frenetic
suddenly doing the things we dream of
involving various degrees of flying
and seeming to be weightless or
boneless sinew peeled back so that sex
on a much higher and more desirable level
than we can know copulates in those dreams
leaping across the stage like we would
on thighs we would die for if we could
and looking at this photograph of your foot
your big toe and your second toe
like spread legs supporting your whole body
I feel your genius for life and thank you
for dancing through it