Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Portrait of the Illness as Nightmare

No matter how many times you ring the bell in the bad dark,
no one will let you in. You face the fun

house with its mirrors on the outside
so everyone can see. And everyone looks. You are in your underwear

and the room is cold. The doctor’s stethoscope pressed to you
becomes suddenly a snake. Your heart hisses in its cage. Your heart sputters,

a doused flame. You are drowning in your blue paper gown, which recedes
in the back like an ocean, your skin a bank of hot sand.

The horizon bleeds and the days and you
wander lost in a city of scalpels where everything glitters

and pills fade like moons on your tongue. You sidle through
sterile labyrinths and piss in a cup. You wait in a room like a chapel

or the belly of a beast. Either way, you think
something will save you, you believe this whole fearsome time.

Your god comes and he is ordinary and terrible. He confers
with the doctors at your kitchen table and tells you to eat

your clots, round as peas. You want dessert. You want to
deceive him, but he, like you, has eyes, and uses them.

You are grounded, in the ground. The pit is a tub
and you are washing in your body’s black water. You rise

like a fever. You writhe on a bed on a stage, the strings reaching
toward heaven. There is a momentary break for everyone

else: intermission. They chatter in the lobby. You babble
symptoms in a white confessional. You fall from a great height and land

on a gurney. You are at the front of a classroom and you are stripped
to your bones. The doctor points to your pelvis. You model

the tumors—in this light they look pretty, like jewels.  

From Deluge by Leila Chatti. Reprinted with permissions from Copper Canyon Press.

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