“Anesthesia” by Sarah Pemberton Strong

Sarah Pemberton Strong


After the anesthesia, I didn’t know
it was after. It was not like
having slept. It was not at all
like having slept, a state you wake from

having logged some knowledge
of time’s passage: twenty minutes
feels different from two hours, or eight.

But I woke from anesthesia
asking when the anesthesia

would begin. The operation’s
over, someone said. It can’t be,

I thought, no time has passed.
I had to put my hands
over the bandage to believe it.

At home I threw up for twelve hours
what seemed like gallons
of bile mixed with darkened blood.
Try giving chips of ice, the doctor said

when my roommates called at midnight
because I couldn’t stop. Try peppermint.
How far I’d gone beyond that.

Outside my window
I was dimly aware

of something happening.
The usual midnight things
on Sixteenth and Albion in 1991:

a bartender smashing empty bottles
in a dumpster behind the corner bar, people
shooting up or turning tricks in doorways
or sleeping, dark shapes to step over later

when the sweet light of morning
filtered down through the street’s acacia trees.
I always left my car unlocked so no one
would break the windows

to get in; someone I never saw
used to climb in the back and sleep there,
leaving candy wrappers on the seat.

At last the sun came up and burned
my room to life again. It was only then

I began to feel
something was wrong—the way you’d feel
a draft of air, and looking for its source,

discover a window had been broken.
Somehow a window had been broken
while time was stopped.

Or perhaps it was the act of breaking in
that had stopped time in the first place,

the way the smashed glass
of a wristwatch
arrests the movement of its hands.

from Rattle #49, Fall 2015


Sarah Pemberton Strong: “When I look at these two poems—‘Anesthesia’ and ‘Stalin’—placed side by side, I realize that they are both interested in the relationship between memory, consciousness, and violence. It was Joseph Stalin who said, ‘A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.’ I look to poetry to wake me up from the stupor of statistics; to help me reconnect, through empathy and close attention, with the singularity of each life—and with all life on this imperiled planet.” (web)

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