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Chemo Brain

Anne Webster

Since a doctor gave me poison pills that left
my heart a swollen slug, killed off my bone marrow,
set my lungs to clamoring, I can get brain-freeze
without eating a snow cone. When I walk
my neighborhood’s knotted streets, lost drivers
stop to ask directions. After thirty years, I know
the pretzel-turns, but when they motor off, I wonder,
Did I say left when I meant right? My husband
gets that look when words change lanes
without bothering to signal. Like soap bubbles
they pop from my mouth–“bird” for “tree,” “cat” for “dog.”

I know I’ve done it again when my grown children
all but pat my head. As if by magic, plastic wrap,
detergent appear in the refrigerator. After errands,
my car comes home nicked and scratched,
as if it’s sneaking nips on the sly. I’m afraid
to drive anywhere new, one wrong turn
I’m lost forever. Just ask me a simple math problem–
numbers dissolve into my skull’s black hole.
Even as I curse that doctor, my brain wakes,
a baby from a nap, stretching till its eyes pop open.
A tsunami of panic recedes, but, as with an errant lover,
it’s a long time before I am able to trust again.

About the poet:

Anne Webster’s twenty-five-year nursing career ended with a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. Since then, she has been writing full-time, both poetry and memoir. Her poetry collection A History of Nursing [1] was nominated for the 2009 National Book Award. She is currently completing a second collection and has contributed poems to Intensive Care [2] and a chapter to The Poetry of Nursing [3].

About the poem:

“I’ve had many misadventures with my health in recent years, and when at my sickest, I sustain myself with the thought I can write about this! Hence this autobiographical poem.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer