By Kyle William McGinn
Round cheeked nurse leans in
to take my vitals. I smell cigarettes,
lilacs. Hear the hum of the blood pressure
machine pinching my arm. Take in flowers and ash to keep
myself from clinging to her scrubs, asking her
to sit on the edge of my bed. I drift into that warm
bath of hospital sounds: beeping monitors, the low
hush of so much waiting. I dream she sits, sighs
and rubs her finger, blushes when I notice
ring tan, gaps in the color, looks at her fingertips
while her voice gets low, tired when she tells me
how long it takes for the burning to fade. It’s too much.
Smoke and flowers. Suddenly, I’m awake.
The grip on my bicep gasps down my forearm. I try
to lay back without gasping too. Fall asleep, dream
of cigarettes and lilacs—where we will go when this is all over.
Sat in a wooden chair—strong armed and stared
across the exam table at gray hospital walls—somehow warm
as if whispered into place. Hot breath—my feet look far away
poking off the edge. My knees swim
tucked beneath a loose gown. I feel small and years
too young for the taste of dry wood tongue depressors.
Too young doctors swarm with charts and scans that look
inside with head shakes and tongue clicks.
My feet, dangling inches from cold floor, reached out
one extra toe length. I was swimming through gray
and intravenous drip. Let the news wash over me, think about
all the things growing inside. How they can make a body turn.
We Were all aware
and allowed each other
long pauses, stifled laughter
in the waiting room. That hiccup
(after the bad news first (we mean cancer
here)): grandma stepping out for air,
quiet religion, one last time again.
Another joke by the time she’s
silhouetted by the fogged glass: avoidance
theory (we mean to forget).
She’s stone faced
or grinning each time
she comes back.
Family tells me she breaks
down only once she’s out
the door. God’s plan:
my scan hung against the light
board. Too much black
and white for a Catholic.
imagining my wife waking, the phone ringing
too early and there’s half sleep, surprised
when I say that they’ve found
short against my teeth in the ER
she’s grimacing I’m sorry
I say it too much as if trying
to fill the wide spaces
that fracture longways
Kyle William McGinn is a union organizing, basketball coaching, Chihuahua owning poet whose poetry has appeared in Stonecoast Review, Indicia, and Typehouse, with forthcoming work in This Thing Called Poetry: An Anthology of Poems by Young Adults with Cancer from Finishing Line Press. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – River Falls and holds an MFA from Hamline University. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.