The Cardiologist Has a Word with Us

by Yolanda Calderon-Horn
The Town
Third Place, January 2008
Judged by Fleda Brown

Cold fingers prowl my spine
even though no one I know is
touching me: nothing doctors
can do. Not a thing. I brush

fingers on one sister’s elbow,
greet my son’s shoulder with mine.
Another sister clings to mami’s hand.
My husband embraces me, lets go;

embraces, lets go. I call the rest
of my siblings in Chicago. I just
say it. I leave the hospital knowing
little about what comes next and too

much of what came before. Days after,
I’m a Radio Flyer covered in snow.
The body and mind lug its brood.
When I walk by young gals at the office,

endlessly pigging up their darling lives,
or the elderly neighbor shifting dust
to the street, I want to grab normalcy
by the collar, ask: why did you dump us?

I think of mami who has the right
or should raise her voice to suit,
and wonder if the phantom of the opera
will have untrained notes trapped

in my stomach. I go to bed trying
to sort fear from anger, resignation
from gratefulness, faith from hope.
I awaken tangled with pipes of the smoke.

I want to wish papi a feliz ano nuevo
the moment I walk through his door-
but the unpredictability of his failing
heart gobbles happy out of terms.

I stand by the fireplace hoping
the ice-storm will melt. Minutes later,
the hearth inhales moisture out of words:
my tongue is heavy like cooled clay.

I like the way this poem slips up on the sorrow, embedding it in the details before we understand its source. The Radio Flyer, the neighbor shifting dust/ to the street, the coworkers "pigging up their darling lives"--the images skillfully keep us one step away from the actual event, the one that matters. The poem stands in its length and its quatrains as testament to Emily Dickinson's poem that begins, "After great pain, a formal feeling comes." I am particularly fond of "The Cardiologist..."s last two lines, the way the poem ends with "cooled clay." --Fleda Brown