Mary Jane Nealon
Body, Body’s Torment, Body’s Reprieve
We met over the trembling of your body, how could it not tremble?
Everyone, every week, succumbing.
But before they succumbed, flowers and presents for the nurses—
fountain pens, Valentino bags, Valentino sweaters,
his House, so decimated.
One night, in a Nor’easter, I took a car service from Jersey City
to find you hovering—vancomycin wracking your body,
rigors and chills, nausea and incontinence, you drenched the sheets in sweat—
the good sheets that we’d gotten at ABC Carpet & Home,
sheets for a bed good enough to die in, you’d said.
No meals for you, your sustenance in a back-pack dripped
into the large chest vein that led straight to your heart.
The fucking people you called friends then
squeezed you out of a Fire Island summer,
the one we all believed was to be your last summer
leaving you in your apartment facing the Chelsea Hotel.
No matter, friend. You did not die.
Miracle, one of a small number pulled back from the abyss.
Leaning over your body, I dug 274 viral balls in one night from your skin,
molluscum contagiosum, I used cuticle removers
to de-core the pearly center, your skin, broken, bled profusely—
we lifted ice to each spot—
nipples, back, belly, eyebrow, eyelids. Almost nothing left for you, Body.
When Gavin came to take you to San Francisco, I taught him the art of it
and you gave me the painting you always wanted me to have.
It is thirty years since then, Body.
It is thirty years since then, Body, old friend.
How you ever came back from that, to spray paint planters that you fill with luscious orchids,
to build in the windows of your house a world of polar bears and snow each Christmas,
to manage all friendships since then, beautifully,
the way a Body should.
Friend, I have never been asked again to sit with someone in such despair.
But I would again, Body. I would again.
Mary Jane Nealon is the author of the the memoir Beautiful Unbroken: One Nurse’s Life (Grey Wolf, 2011) and the poetry collections Immaculate Fuel (Four Way, 2004) and Rogue Apostle (Four Way, 2001). Her poems appear in the anthologies The Poetry of Nursing (Kent State, 2006), edited by Judy Schaefer, and The Art of Bicycling (Breakaway Books, 2005), edited by Justin Daniel Belmont. Her poems have appeared in Forklift, Ohio; Mid American Review; The Paris Review; The Kenyon Review; and Poets Against the War, among other journals. Mary Jane received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. She was the 2004-2005 recipient of the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship and won the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. Mary Jane lives in Missoula, Montana, where she is a nurse at a community health center.
This poem previously appeared in The International Journal of Servant-Leadership.