Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog

Monday, June 12, 2017


Five years ago today, the most beautiful and strongest person I know, my daughter Caitlin, began a long and ultimately successful journey back to health after suffering a cerebral aneurysm. Love you, my sunshine! ♥ And thank you again to Dr. Michel Bojanowski and his team at the Centre hospitalier de l' Université de Montréal, Hôpital Notre-Dame.

Below is my poem, "Almost", dedicated to Caitlin.

— for Caitlin

i.          Silverweed

Silverweed, also known as cinquefoil, is the symbol of maternal protection of a beloved daughter, as the leaves will bend over the flower when it rains—  Natural History Museum, Cable, Wisconsin

Telephones that ring at three a.m.
mean bad news,
yet you must answer them.
You lose
your voice, then find a stratagem,
your shoes,

your cell, your cool, your car keys, certitude.
You must believe.
You mustn’t come unglued.
Don’t leave
the rosary beads behind. Saint Anne! Saint Jude!
You weave

along the boulevards at blinding speed,
and though you make
a deal with God, you need
to shake
that weighty metaphor for silverweed.
Or break.

ii.         The Vigil

You’re in a coma in Intensive Care.
A portion of your skull has been removed.
A feeding tube delivers sustenance.
A ventilator tube delivers air.
I sit beside you on a folding chair.

A monitor with multicolored lines
deciphers whether you will make it through
as medications drip into your veins.
A path of staples holds your scalp in place.
I’m thankful that you cannot see my face.

June. July. My fourth novena starts.
In counting off the decades on your hands,
I meditate on Joyful number five:
to find my child as Mary found her son—
alive and well. And when this vigil’s done,

and you are home again—as you must be—
when grace drives out the shadows, you will tell
of how you sensed the doctors come and go,
and heard You Are My Sunshine in your sleep,
and somehow knew your mother would not weep.

iii.        Off-the-wall

It’s late. Soon I will yank them off the wall―
these posters urging one to think about
the selfless act of signing off on heart,
on corneas, kidneys, liver, lungs and skin.
My satisfaction will be pure, perverse.

At 2 a.m., with no one in the hall,
not caring if they ever find me out,
I exercise my right to fall apart,
ask God’s forgiveness for this venial sin,
and jam the jagged pieces in my purse.

It’s far too early yet to know if she’s
to live or die; and I shall not assume.
The day shift nurses and the orderlies
arrive as grace notes trim the waiting room.

iv.                Pena negra

Los caballos negros son. – Federico García Lorca,
from “Romance de la Guardia Civil Española”

I will not mince my words and call it brown,
as in brown study. No insipid blues.
I will not misinform with pastel hues
or undertones for adjective and noun.
The world is saturated monochrome.
Beyond the window, trees (I guess) are green
and sunsets golden as they’ve always been
before this hospital became my home.

My pen suspends above a livid page―
an invitation to incarnadine
its surface with resentment, ravings, rage.
But red won’t do. The words that span this line
that runs between the points of hell and back
can only be conveyed in shades of black.

v.                  Afterwords

I gather up the get-well cards and flowers
and dress her in her street clothes, socks and shoes,
then wheel her out into the summer air.
She is alive. Alive against all odds.

I’ve chronicled her unaccounted hours,
for days are things one can’t afford to lose:
the words tell how, with nothing left but prayer,
I trusted in a surgeon’s hands. And God’s.

The little notebook, thorough, stark, exact,
recounts procedures, numbers on a chart;
and since the point-by-point is based on fact,
she’ll never read of daggers to the heart
or how—amid disaster—the mundane
and blessed act of writing kept me sane.

(Hôpital Notre-Dame, Montreal, June, July, August, 2012)

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