- Sick T'ang Poems, and: They Think They Can Tell by Looking
Sick T'ang Poems
groan heave ache pill painbruise force sharp glass sprainbare cringe core bone jointswell blood flesh feel rain
knife cut skin cleft deepedge split gash blood seepslice gut vein pulse throbstich raw red scar sleep
neck knot pang lock wristarm burn soft flesh twistthigh nerve spark melt rockchest heave rib bone grist
pill spark gray mist spinshake hold tight skull dincrack blue brink tin zapbrick pound brain blade thin [End Page 230]
They Think They Can Tell by Looking
At the pre-surgery clinic the staff checks "white" on the intake form. Two dangerous boxes: M holds a knife to my sternum while F pins my arms back.
"White" likes to watch but I kick free this time, X him away, circle "American Indian/Alaskan Native" seven times. M is my legs splayed open. F is my body covered only by
the teal hospital gown riding up above my waist the day of surgery. A surgical assistant dressed like a medical motorcycle asks, "What's that?" as he stares at my name.
"Cherokee," I say. "Oh," he says, "I've never meta full-blood Cherokee."
"I'm mixed," I reply, looking to my partner Michael to telegraph my frustration.
Michael reaches out to touch my hand while my long silver glittery fingernail picks unconsciously at my cuticle. "How much are you?" Bike Dude asks as the nurse whispers.
"One, two, three," and slips a needle into my vein. "We don't talk about it that way," I say, even though too many of us still do. "Well, how do you talk about it, then?" "I'm just
Cherokee." My veins sting. The surgeon comes in. Dr. Soot. I smell ash, taste coal. "Tell me how to say your name." "Quoooh Leee" I say. "I'm sure you hear this all
the time . . ." he says. I do. ". . . but when I saw your name I thought you would be Asian." I'm not sure what Asian looks like. "Nope," I answer, "Cherokee."
"Cherokee, huh?" he asks. The heart monitor beeps faster. I stop talking. The nurse tries to calm me: "He doesn't mean any harm. He's just trying to have a conversation."
I don't want a conversation. I'm enrolled as a patient here, not with a federally recognized tribe and the only card I have is for insurance. Soon Soot's hands will carve a caesura
into my belly to push intestines back below muscle and fat. [End Page 231]
A week later a bruise appears. It looks like the Appalachian mountains volcanic below my belly button. The surgical center tells me to come back in for an examination.
There, a doctor I've never met tells me to stand up, lift my shirt. It feels just like turning tricks. "It's fine," he says. "It's an old bruise." I tell him the bruise appeared last night.
"No," he says, "I've been doing this for 20 years. I can tell by looking." He must know, then, that everyday something inside me tears wide open.
Blood rushes to the surface. [End Page 232]