“Acute Myelogenous Leukemia” by Michelle Roberti-West

Michelle Roberti-West


It hit like that one ex who punched me
in the face at a seawall stoplight
and then weeks later backhanded me three times
in his Heights apartment before I finally
figured out to leave. Like that. Horror not known 
by the shock of violence, just by dumb repetition.
But I don’t mean to make this about me.
It hurt all of us.

This was years later. I had a family. It looked nothing like stopped at the red,
not those dingy digs. I had a husband and daughter. She believed in Santa.

Run-up to illness with the most obvious signs—
Lightning struck the tree out the kitchen window
and then the vibration of the windowpane shattered
the wineglass set against it.

It was the year Madison bought everything death’s-head-trend
at Hot Topic, at Target, and Halloween was more Halloween 
than usual—the plastic ghoul Jeffrey chose 
to hang from one of the limbs out front 
and the small styrofoam headstones he 
set up on the lawn. The kiddie pool-sized spider
strung above the porch.

Flowery voodoo skulls flavored our New Orleans vacation
and Dia De Los Muertos stiffs waved hello in Houston.

       Buzzards landed on the house.

Baker’s cysts behind his knees.
His little afternoon fevers.
The cut that wouldn’t heal.

All these signs as if deity, that mustache-twirling
villain, decided we must be the idiot family 
on the block too lovestruck in our suburb to recognize
subtle so he needed to wallop us Three Stooges-like.

Look at me, deity said. I’ve blown
the door open in the night. Anything
might have slithered in. Didn’t you hear it?
Ever heed a warning, ya fucks? I hurl
portents but you’re all oblivious.
It’s coming in, fools. 
It’s here.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020


Michelle Roberti-West: “The God Hotline spit back ‘the number you have called has been disconnected or is no longer in service.’ In fact, it spit at us, except that one time when something picked up and cackled. That’s how my husband’s diagnosis and death felt and still feels. We’ve had eight and a half years to heal, but you wouldn’t know it. Only art answers. It answers both Madison and me.”

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