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Breath & Shadow

Winter 2009 - Vol. 6, Issue 1

"MRI Followup"

written by

Natalie E. Illum

The jewelry I knew

to remove in advance. The crutches

too reactive to enter. Better to bring

the stretcher out here. I agree, allow

myself to be shifted into position, anchored

so that my head is caged. I agree, though

nurses and elderly patients stroll by, barely

blink at my exposure, the struggle

to find a center on narrow slab

under fluorescents so that magnets

can resonate at the center of me. Accurately

capture the imbalanced neurons, the dried flowers of ancient hematomas, the bright

Rorschach of a new bleed. Something's pressing

harder than time inside my joints and synapses. Migraines

or movement, the speed makes me vomit, or turns

my eyes upward until

the blushing sky at dawn is a relief.

The pattern repeats

like a heart murmur, too often.

I make this appointment, stumble in

to let the ions, the radio waves reveal,

what I cannot. Nobody warned me

at birth or now, about a noise

so loud, a random firing

abstract enough to make

my marrow quake, my muscles flip.

An alien Morse code I cannot

anticipate or escape.

Wallflowers won't survive

inside MRI machines, the round suction

of a sonic boom that brings

my disability to its knees, renders

me beyond shaken; so I give into

the deepest static I have ever known.

Suddenly, it's easy to find

my pulse again, open my lungs.

I'm too scared to scream, too scarred

to uncover the irony, but I manage

a smile, a deep breath, and I can't help

but think of you as I connect with

my diaphragm, hear the cadence of my heart. I imagine it whole

again, flashed clean. I can see

the tree of life at the base of my skull

preparing for spring. Showing me,

regardless of test results, or shadow tumors;

this cycle is not over.

For a minute, I believe in miracles.

I take in the noise of this life machine

and I see myself walking out of here,

free of the crutches and staples

that vibrate as I tremor through

the loudest 25 minutes of my life.

And when it's over,

the swollen silence confirms

that I still want you on the other side

of that door that says "caution." I want to do handstands that breach

physics and childhood. And yes,

I'm asking these sound waves

for what could be impossible: to reach you

in ways I may never be able; to permeate

what divides us. And I won't apologize

if the hydrogen bonds weaken, if the reaction

is terminal. Biology and healing

teach me to love myself more than

the possibility of failure. I know

I love you completely, as absolutely

as I am embedded in this moment -

cells and images flashing.

Outcome unknown.

Natalie E. Illum is an activist, writer and federal employee. She also has an MFA in creative writing from American University and teaches poetry workshops in a variety of community venues.


Her work is also included in Growing Up Girl (GirlChild Press, 2006) and Word Warriors: 35 Women Leaders of the Spoken Word Revolution (Seal Press, 2007). She has been featured in the online literary journal LOCUSPOINT and in if poetry. She recently finished collaborating with LAVA, an acrobatic troupe in Brooklyn, and perfected her skills at performing poetry upside down. Her previous self-published chapbooks Counterbalance, On Writers Block, and Acrobats are available on Lulu Press.


She hopes to complete her memoir Spastic as soon as she has enough courage to write something longer than a page and a half.

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