NOTES ON READING FROM THE AUTHOR:
Often my poems begin with some reluctant experience that delivers me from the routine of my life, and in the case of “MRI, Blues & Redemption,” it was an experience I had been dreading since my orthopedic had scheduled it the week before, relieved though I was that I could now imagine a future when I might brush my teeth again without pain. I think the poem is a testament to how much we rely upon our imaginations to counter the unbearable realities the world occasionally dumps on us, ye olde unseen versus the seen. So it is with faith. I had been reading around the time of the MRI a couple of books by Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling and The Sickness unto Death, cheery titles, but at that moment in my life when I found myself wrestling again with faith and doubt, he helped me understand the ineluctable dependency of one upon the other. The poem is honest and I wrote it fairly quickly, almost as soon as I got home lest I wouldn’t forget the rush of thought and emotion I had experienced during the MRI. We carry so much around in our heads, what we’ve done, what we’ve read, what we’ve seen, what we’ve forgotten, and sometimes only in moments of extreme anxiety or boredom does it come back to us. So I tell my students, you have no idea how the content of the humanities may one day come to serve you.
WHERE’S YOUR FAVORITE AND/OR STRANGEST PLACE TO WRITE?
However much I might believe the Unabomber got right about the creeping influence of technology upon our lives, I certainly love what it’s done to make the writing life easier. I’ve commuted by bicycle for many years now and ride on weekends, too. By myself. I often rest on this one picnic table beside the Ouachita River in Monroe, stretched out on its tabletop, resting my head on my helmet, and record on my iPhone the random thoughts I’ve had while riding. They often don’t amount to much when I play them back at my desk at home, but I have gotten a lot of benefit out of the notes and recording functions of my phone while I’ve watched the Ouachita roll its way south. I work best at my desk in the bedroom, early in the morning, sometimes very early in the morning.
MRI, Blues & Redemption
For my knee I had only to slide in
up to my waist, but to get a good
resonance of my elbow the technician
interred me head first. Swallowed by a
cylindrical pipe of medical wonderment,
my first thought, prompted by all
the titanic ratcheting, was a blue note
taped to a drill bit, in bold red letters,
from the Chilean Copiapó miners
"Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33."
I could listen then to the magnetic
jack-hammering, knowing this hell
would not last sixty-nine days but only
thirty minutes . . . I could relax,
enjoy my claustrophobia. I thought
of Mr. Mole, how I love children’s stories,
their pictures, their charming ontology,
and the morning he walked to the mailbox
labeled Mole, to unwrap the mail-order violin
whose whistling, stringy pitch, born of his
lonely practice, would leech upward through
the roots to bless the attentive few, mostly
squirrels and birds . . . All those caves
in Missouri, long overnight adventures
of clammy darkness and muddy clothes.
I thought of those safety bells and flags
rigged to coffins in the 19th Century
for those unlucky ones misdiagnosed as
dead, Robert E. Lee’s mother, a year before
she bore him. Of course there was no
not remembering Tarrentino’s Kill Bill, NOT
one of my favorites, or Dante Rossetti,
who having buried several unpublished
poems in the hands of his lovely
suicide wife Elizabeth Siddal had them—
and I love this word, you can even smell it—
exhumed—exhumed from the folds of her
copper hair that had grown to stuff
the casket . . . Could you, dear reader
open the grave of your lover to retrieve
some poems whose lines you couldn’t
remember? . . . And all these thoughts
lasting maybe, maybe five minutes and I
had not opened my eyes once and I
had no plans to open them, and far
above me and around me I could hear
them coming for me with their sledge-
hammer magnets, and if I moved
even to scratch my ear, I would have
to start the whole ordeal all over again,
probably pay for it again, and then feeling
more uncomfortable, I started praying,
and I went on praying in the old, childish
way I knew, praying for this irreverent rosary
of knuckled bone, arthritic altar of crumbling
cartilage and ragged tendon, until, with the foam pad
beneath my knees and the pillow under my neck,
I had this feeling of being held by Jesus
and I went on praying. He was very big,
as big as the statue of Christ The Redeemer
who blesses from the top of Mt. Corcovado
the favelas of Rio, and I was very small,
just an infant in his arms but try as hard
as I could, I could not see his face.
Maybe if I hadn’t strayed from belief,
hadn’t slipped at fifteen from the grip
of the priest as I fled before Mass to go
driving around stoned with my buddies,
hadn’t read Freud & Co. so closely,
hadn’t stopped praying over my beer,
maybe, just maybe I could have found
those eyes looking back from the clouds
inside my head and maybe my mother
waited there, too, looking over his shoulder,
maybe death had only made her obscure.
I went on praying until the hammering ended.
I opened my eyes, but I didn’t want to
come back. I had grown comfortable in this faux
posture of death. Believe me if I refused
to move I knew where this sewer pipe led,
down a dusty wash behind the movie set,
rocky pilgrimage, millennially old, where
the miracles waited their reenactment and
Paul stood ready to resume his lines.
I moved my fingers, opened my eyes
to the fluorescent blues, to the stainless
silver strings that bind us together, unruly
band of liars that we are. I’m amazed that
no one ever knows what we’re thinking.
Look at me, you don’t know what I’m thinking.
I thanked the man and left. Tell me, how
could I have told him all of this,
and how could I not have told you?
As I drove home I looked left and right,
it was trash day in my neighborhood,
a pile in front of everyone’s house, kind of
hoping someone had carried his old MRI
out to the side of the road like some worn out
lawn mower or two-wheeled tricycle,
so that I might throw it in the truck
and drag it home to practice this death
I kept feeling I owed somebody.