Monday, March 7, 2011


Relax my jaw.  My fists.  My hips.  Fart.  The stars are beautiful tonight.  This house was built fifty years ago, when people and furniture were smaller and the world was bigger and a diagnosis of AML might give you time to dig a grave, and a mother's insomnia was not spent typing her thoughts onto a screen for the world to read.

In order to fit the big bed into the room, we had to push it up under the casement, but it fits there and on clear nights I tolerate the convective draft off the windows to keep the curtains open and look at the sky.  There's Wallace, porcelain luster of his face in the glow of the alarm clock.

The alarm clock is too bright, and never set, as John wakes with the day and I with the babies.  It's a sentimental alarm clock.  I have two; my father bought them both for me.  The older one, the one with the beep that gets louder and louder until the fire engine in my dreams finally gives way to consciousness, he bought in the little Main St. Radioshack that used to be below his office.  There's a fancy food boutique there now.  This alarm clock is unplugged and lying in the tangle of its cord on the floor, because it has recently become possessed by some dark force and will attempt, relentlessly, to wake me at midnight regardless of my interventions.  Perhaps it knows something I don't: that I should be awake at midnight making sense of all the laundry that I have failed to address during the rest of my waking hours.

The other alarm clock is a radio.  My dad bought it for me to have in the hospital so that I could plug in my ipod and listen to Gillian Welch and Low Anthem and Townes Van Zandt and Bon Iver.  When the nurses came in at night to "take my vitals" (a faintly disconcerting expression) and change IV bags, I could mark the time as 1, or 2, or 3am by the nightlight glow.  I had two different possessed wall clocks in the hospital, too.  In the middle of the night they would occasionally start spinning through the minutes and hours like a nightmare dream sequence in a movie, portending some calamity, until they had stolen a full day, and then return to "real" time and stop.

The hospital mattresses are vinyl, sticky and crunchy.  The IV tubing was usually in my right arm; the veins are better there for threading the catheter.  The pillows are also plastic.  The linen is washed in detergents and bleaches so harsh that they are nearly rigid with chemicals.  The whole set up would make a person sweat even without the chemo, but the chemo causes sweats, too, as the body tries desperately to manage the toxin load.  I would wake during the night in a clammy pool and strip off my sodden clothes; I had to be unhooked to do it but that was fine because the nurses were usually there to record numbers and replace the sticky sheets.

That was my bed of autumn leaves.  The woodstove has dried them in this little cottage, and I curl up against a warm body, so startlingly absent from my nights suspended in the click and glow.  It stirs and snuffles; are there any eyelashes like those of one's own sleeping child? 
Sometimes the numbers and letters have to turn sideways or lean over to fit, piling up in the little deadline room that I occasionally visit late at night when sleep has left me but first closed all the doors.  They are taunting me, but I can look at the stars, at my sons, at my husband in the silver glow.  Finally they topple out like clowns from a Volkswagen, spill on the floor, numerous but irrelevant with their rainbow hair and big shoes, and I can go back to sleep.

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