Friday, April 27, 2012

Better, and Worse

I went to the Cardiologist to see about the heart flutterings. Ignore them, he said. Ignore them. Do some yoga. Everyone is firing off odd electrical signals from the heart, he said. Ignore them. And so, thus ignored, they mostly went away, at least until Saturday when I got an email that my grandmother wasn't doing well. The nurse gave her a few days. A few days? I'd just talked to her on the phone. My mom had seen her last week. She was fine. My sisters saw her on Easter. Fine. I mean, not fine. She'd been downward-spiraling since October when she broke her ankle. She went to the nursing home for rehab. After a day of physical therapy, they put ice on her leg. But they put it on the wrong leg--not the one that had been working out--the one with the cast that absorbed the melting ice. The cast festered. Her leg festered. It got gangrene. She lost her leg below the knee on my birthday. When we saw her at Christmas in the hospital, she was out of it. If she'd passed away then, I'd have understood. But two weeks later when she got home, after Erik's uncle built her a ramp for her wheelchair, after everyone visited her at the house, after she had her cat back, she seemed like she'd be OK. But, she'd had diabetes for years. And losing a leg does bad things to your circulatory system. She wasn't digesting food well. She was not doing as well as I thought she was when I talked to her the last time. I didn't know it would be the last time. I guess you rarely do.

It's weird that I feel like I've been given back my good health with the word ignore it just when Grandma was losing hers. But it's not all about me. But death does weird things to perspective. You do think about your own death even though you try to focus on how much has gone from the universe now that she's not her. You do start paying attention to things--if grandma could see these lilacs. I should pay good attention to these lilacs.You never know when these will be your last lilacs. I got all morbid and told my students, poetry is the genre of death. We're all marching toward death. Poetry says, pay attention. It will all be gone soon. It's very unAmerican to think like that. Of death at all. We like fiction--the idea that narrative will take us on a train trip. We'll go somewhere cool and when it ends, and the book is dead, we're still alive. Take that, we say to the book. Poems try to slow us down. Looking at things slow might as well be looking at the best woods for caskets.

But my grandma herself. She will miss her cat. Her plum tree. Pussy willows. Her daughters. Her Saltines. Her Coca-Cola bears. Well, it's a long list. I'll write it up for the funeral. I'm glad I get to be there with my family so they can make a list too--even if it's a little like poetry.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


It's the trying to relax that's the problem. Driving, car pulls in front of you, miss the light, miss the next light, miss the next light, try to breathe, it's only elementary school but in so breathing and rationalizing it's only elementary school, you realize you are breathing heavier, not more slowly and just because you're not screaming at the car the pulled in front of you or at the lights doesn't mean your heart isn't beating faster.
I went to the ER on Saturday. My heart felt all fluttery--like it was trying to swallow and I kept telling my heart, don't eat that, but it was, apparently hungry enough to make me nervous. So, extra nervous I went to the ER where I was told to relax and try not to be so nervous which of course made me nervous--am I nervous now? Are you hooking me up to what monitor? Are you sure I'm not dying? Are you asking me if I'm stressed a lot right now? It's the end of the semester. I have two kids. I'm going up for tenure. I have two books coming out. I need to make dinner. I need to make dinner that is healthy and won't kill me and is made from organic wild rice that costs $10.00 a pound and my account is overdrawn now. Every time my heart flickers, I think, am I stressed right now? As I read Pam Houston I wonder, are Pam's stories of near-death on plane flights stressing me out? Is the fight between nonfiction and fiction stressing me out? If I choose John D'agata will I lose all my friends? When will John send his essay for one of the books that's coming out next year? Maybe he won't. Maybe that's good. Maybe I should spend less time on Facebook wondering about nonfiction, less time talking to my students about nonfiction and write some nonfiction but I really should write some poems but I hate sending poems out because you have to put them in batches and write down the ones you sent and I forget and then someone wants one and then I have to withdraw the whole batch or more likely no one wants any and where are all these poems going to pile up? Where are the GTA's for my students? Why couldn't I get them all one? Why am I chair of a committee that has failed to get more for my students? Why am I the chair of anything? I should sit in my chair and write. I should write standing up, for my health. Typing. Typos. Spellcheck. Auto spell check on iPhone I didn't mean "nag" for Angie." Sorry, Ang.

I have made myself so aware of my anxiety that now everything contributes to it. The fork? Am I shaking? No. It's just a fork. I dropped my water glass. I should really relax. I should sweep up the glass. My life is so full of dangerous glass however will I go on? Do I have any friends? Is Flagstaff the loneliest place in the world? Is that why everyone is so nice? Does the wind make my heart skip a beat in that hungry, not so good way?

OK. Here's what can calm me down: 15 vultures by the side of Lake Elaine (a little tiny lake mostly for the rich suburb down the street.) The vultures were all standing with their backs to the lake, wings open, wide and heliotropic like solar panels. A coyote that runs far enough away in front of the car, fast enough, that you believe no coyotes get run over, ever. The coyote looking back at you through the trees. A heron in Lake Mary. A heron in the desert. A running. No weird heart flutters. Perhaps I could run forever, nonstop. The best salad in the world: leftover ($10) wild rice, carrots, olives and toasted pepitas. I should live forever heart. Well, except maybe for the olives.

There are good things and bad things (mostly bad) about feeling fragile. The shimmer is good. The birch twisting their catkins in the angina-producing wind. The dog, getting old, still running through the forest, her camouflage almost as good as a coyote's. Max who says "yes" and "love you" as if loving everyone were old hat. Zoe who wants me to guess what and the guess what is almost always about a Cheetah or an Eagle. Now that she's been to Disneyland and ridden on the California Screamer, she's stopped asking why I like birds so much. Chocolate bar from someone who promises wine and chocolate are good for your heart. The bad thing is that it almost all threatens to break, like the notes for crystal. I don't like thinking about my heart or how fragile it is. I don't like feeling fragile at all. It makes me nervous.