Jeannine Hall Gailey


Listen to the audio version read by Melissa Cotter.

is here to help me learn to move my mouth,
to help my nerves stop giving up on swallowing
. Today there was an explosion on the London tube,
a nuclear missile shot over Japan.
Today it looks like it's the last of the dahlias
blooming, my roses dropping petals. Today
I will be using a wheelchair, but maybe not
tomorrow. Today I will be sad over something small –
a poetry rejection, a spat with my mother.
I'm re-learning walking and talking, childhood memories
needing to be re-flexed, learning to be reflexive.
So many simple things are suddenly impossible –
a step, a bite of food. Today I will learn to be
resilient, because what is my other choice?
In the face of disaster, I will write a poem,
pay a credit card bill, hug someone.
Today's apocalypse is not too different
from tomorrow's but they keep surprising us.
A box of crackers and a crate of water,
extra batteries, or a bottle of steroids to ward off attack,
some magic talisman held close to keep us safe,
as now we lay us down to sleep.

* * *


Listen to the audio version read by Melissa Cotter.

I: The New Neurologist

Traces the outlines of my brain on the screen,
the dark spots – brain damage, he explains,
the bright halos, inflammation, though if I read it,
it's a constellation of supernovas,
storm clouds, fireflies in front of a screen.
This is why I'm a poet and not a radiologist.
In this office, dingy and full of self-help brochures
on meditation and pain management,
I cannot imagine a future, in a hallway
lined with wheelchairs, reminders that my legs
are no longer reliable, like my mind.
Suddenly I am back underwater, eyes burning,
lungs pressing against the pressure, drowning,
refusing to stop gasping, to stop struggling.
The doctor is younger than I am, cannot imagine me
playing basketball or rappelling down a mountain's face,
whitewater rafting or slam dancing,
before my careful placement of one clumsy foot
in front of the other, the shaking hands, the cane.
He does not know yet the failures of the body,
cannot remember ever being in the hands of someone
who held the beautiful explosion of their own nerves
in front of them, saying, "I'm surprised you're not much worse
with this amount of brain damage." He's too young
to know anything yet, how strong the ties of memory,
of muscle, of the body's refusal to go under, to surrender.


II. Brain Damage

If you trace the bright rings in the constellation
of your brain on this scan, you would see the dark eyes
of nothingness, of things being x-ed out of existence.

The doctors can explain this or that. You are staring
into your own nightfall, these holes that represent
what you had and now do not have.

They have pills and needles to slow down
the rate of destruction. They do not have a cure.
You start taking vitamins, eating blueberries

as if those will make a difference.
Your hands shake when you try to write
or put on mascara. Your legs do not always

obey you, have a tendency to buckle.
How do you go into this dark tower alone?
Someone has covered the path back home

with leaves, eaten the bread crumbs, taken
the pebbles. You are lost. You can only try
to chisel another path of memory,

hope this one will be permanent,
or at least illuminate the way
long enough for you to remember

the castle, the reason you started this journey.

* * *


Listen to the audio version read by Melissa Cotter.

Because as soon as you start to unfurl
it dissolves around you

like sand castles we built on cloudy beaches
crying as they disappeared beneath our cupped hands
to the hungry surf

we are balloons, frail and hopeful, lost in the skyscape
before we break.

Our atoms become water and air and
an orange on the table, the tree the table was built from

when do we run, like water, downhill
into the available plains, ruining farms in our path

your blood your bone your hair
slip away unfinished, burn away
but leave no mark on the earth

even your gravestone dulls, grows moss,
is worn away by that same water like sand like our fingerprints

we are a whisper just a little longer on the face of the earth.


Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She's the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist's Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, which won the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA's Elgin Award. Her work has been featured on NPRR's 'he Writer's Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review and Prairie Schooner. Her web site is