Various and Sundry Poetry

Dressing up for the Doctorin memory of Danielle Drumke

Dr. Brown doesn’t know I showered for her,
shaved my legs nice and smooth,
prepped and primped like I would
for a first date, scrubbed myself clean
of all possible unpleasantness, gave her
a fresh canvas to investigate on this
overcast day, a Thursday a little on the chilly side.

There’s a part of me that believes
a good swipe with the washcloth
and fresh underwear will give me
the clean bill of health I’m after,
because there’s something altogether mystical
about how one person can escape an early mortality
and another can fall headfirst into the flames.

When I was nearing 30, I ran into a woman
I knew on the 5th floor of the medical center
on a university campus in San Francisco. I was
leaving from my annual Pap smear. She was
visiting her oncologist. She was 27. She had brain cancer,
some crazy thing, stage 4. She was on her way out,
although no one would have known it then, all smiles,
looking like she owned the world, like it was hers
to play with, like she wasn’t about to let anything pass her by.

Less than two years later she would be gone,
permanently, and I’m thinking of her now
as I spread my legs for the good Dr. Brown,
realizing that smooth legs and an even bikini line
are of little consequence in this examining room,
that I could just as easily be dangling into the pit
of some irreversible horror.

And yet, this is no way to keep breathing, as if any moment
life could topple and shatter, as if I am just squeaking by.
Even when she had it worst, Danielle managed to fly home
for Thanksgiving, take a trip to New Zealand, visit friends
in Seattle, and in all those pictures she is grinning, looking
like she hit the jackpot, like she was made of luck.
She must have had her moments, I’m sure,
the derisions at God, some inflammatory assault
into her bathroom mirror, watching her scalp
metastasize, the long shoe-horn scar biting
her skin, disrupting the symmetry of her body
and everything else she had to cleave from,
a spot on the soccer team, playing drums for the band,
a lover who couldn’t take it when things got bad,
the surgeries and speech loss and a wheelchair
and hospice. But in her photographs she is
the brightest light in the room, a star,
a goddess, a golden opportunity.

The ovaries look good, Dr. Brown says,
kneading her hands on my lower abdomen.
Perfectly normal, she adds, and even she looks relieved,
and for a moment I forget what a narrow escape this could be,
a momentary lapse on the part of the Fates,
who are off somewhere else wreaking their havoc.
For a moment I gaze down on my body and see
something long and beautiful and intact,
a smooth stretch of highway heading into
the deep, wild heart of the universe,
and there is nothing else to do
but say thank you.