Various and Sundry Poetry

the sacrifice

I count myself lucky. It was just a few bad cells
threatening an inch-sized plot in the center of my forehead.
I did not run screaming as the roof of the house
I had built with my own hands came plummeting.
I did not watch my mother or daughter disappear
under the rubble. I did not lose a limb, or a life.
Hunger did not set in, the searing in the belly
driving me toward thiefdom. I did not have to wait
for the sky to drop cargoloads of dried beans.
I did not lose my shoes in the furious race
toward water. I did not find myself sitting
in the same row with a stranger who would,
in the name of martyrdom, destroy an entire busload
with a single detonation. I was not a soldier
patrolling a line in the sand on his first deployment,
fingers skittish on the trigger. I was not an orphan
raising siblings in a brutal tent city. I was not
that tent city, teeming with desperate acts of simple survival.
I was not held at knifepoint and robbed of my innocence.
I was not trampled in the heat of hysteria.
I was not sent to my death because of the God I prayed to.

No, I lay there, trusting of the hand slicing into me,
the scalpel so precise it would leave only a trace of itself
after the bleeding stopped and the stitches woven through.
In a week, I would tell the story of the operating table
like an offbeat joke. I would barely remember the trickle of blood
at my temple, the tug at my flesh. The debauched cells
I will have surrendered to the lab and I don’t suppose I will ache
for their return. I will think not of this as a sacrifice,
will forget the temporary frailty of my body to manage
its dissidents, will go on about my business with the same alacrity
and cheerful ignorance I have greeted every other day of my life.

But for now, with the sutures still embedded,
a fresh bandage I fashioned this morning,
and rectangles of tape holding the wound closed,
I am in that rubble. My boots shifty on the sand,
eyes scanning the clouds for the big planes
to come in with reinforcements.
I am sitting on that bus, doing my best to keep track
of who’s climbing the steps and what they’re carrying.
I am keeping a close watch on my water supply,
listening for sinister footsteps behind me,
praying to a busy God for a scrap of salvation,
everything in me clinging to the uncertain, inexplicable fact
of living.