“Stroke” by Matthew Dickman

Matthew Dickman


The hotel sign blinking
in the brain

of my body
stops blinking but not

the whole sign,
you know, just a couple

of the letters,
the H and T.

Then the E and L
so all that is left

when the whole left
side of my body

comes to an end
is the O.

I am sitting across
from a beautiful

woman, drinking coffee,
and she is asking

me what I did.
What were you doing

when you were
in your twenties,

she asks. And I am
saying something like

I was doing
a lot of drugs

but the words
come out all slurred,

they come out
like pushing your tongue

through a clay door,
the word drug

becoming droog.
And then free-will

floats up and out,
really it flies, it leaps

off the ledge of me,
and I remember

while falling
from my chair

to the ground, trying
to apologize.

The half of my brain
that was still

alive, as alive as
a deer

standing in a meadow
in the morning

licking dew off
the blades of grass,

telling what was left
of me that I was just

tired. You’re just tired
the left side

of my brain said,
you’re just tired,

this is normal.
The normal not normal

blood clot
in the right side

of my brain
wiping everything

away like a teacher
wiping chalk away

with an eraser,
the blackboard

full of signs and cosines
and then just long

strokes of white,
a white field in winter,

a white sky
before rain. A white

sheet of paper.
Through the tunnel

of my body
I could hear someone

ask me
are you ok?

My whole life someone
asking me,

and so often it was me,
are you ok,

are you feeling well?
I’m just tired,

I thought.
And then this

thought: I’m not.
A hand on the hand

I could still feel.
They are coming,

the voice said,
it’s ok, you will be ok.

The sound then
of the ambulance

from far off.
The sirens getting

closer, lights
and sirens approaching

my body
from a street far off.

That’s something
I never thought of

That sirens are always

a body, that’s the whole

reason for them,
to let everyone know

there is a body.
I thought of my son

at home,
seventeen months old,

pointing to the window
in the living room,

siren, siren, siren,

and up, up, up.
I was lifted up

onto the gurney,
my shirt cut off

in the ambulance,
and arriving

at the hospital,
the triage nurse

are you Matthew Dickman.

Yes. Up, up, up,
I thought.

Death is not a design,
not an idea.

Death is the body, I know
this now, it’s your arms

and legs,
your whole cardio

vascular system.
It is the whole of us,

only we walk around
enough to think

it isn’t.
The blood clot is doing

its job,
it’s doing exactly what

it was made to do
and the only thing you

need to do
when you are dying

is to die.
Nothing else.

You don’t need to
fold the laundry

or clean
the kitchen floor,

you don’t have to
pick your children up

from school.

the rest of your life,
there is only this one

thing. You don’t even
have to be good at it,

you just have to
do it. A list of chores

with just one
chore. In the operating

room I’m awake,
made to stay awake,

while the surgeon
threads a “line”

through the artery
in my groin

and up through all
the rooms, through

the room of my legs,
and the room

of my chest,
through the room

of my neck
and into the room

of my brain.
When I put my son

to bed I give him
a bottle of milk,

and rock him and sing,
it’s time to rest your body,

it’s time to rest
your mind,

it’s time, oh it’s time
to rest your brains.

The surgeon is able
to grab the clot

and slip it through
and out

of all the rooms,
into the one he’s working in.

I can hear everyone
in the operating

room clapping
because they are happy,

because it took
that one try

to get it all, to remove
the clot, and then

the left side of me
begins to move again,

and there it is,
I have to pee,

my body is done
with this death.

And now there is nothing
to do but wait

for the next death.
I have never been more

inside than that
moment. I have never

wanted anything
as much as I wanted

to stand up
in that room

and walk out through
the automatic

doors to you,
to walk right into

your arms
like walking into the sea.

from Rattle #66, Winter 2019
Rattle Poetry Prize Winner


Matthew Dickman: “When I suffered a stroke in April 2018, I wasn’t sure that I would write poems again. Of course I could physically write a poem. I was lucky that I was in a public place when the stroke occurred and got help right away. It’s just that mentally I felt lost and alone and angry. But with any of the trauma I have experienced in my life it was always poetry that called me back to myself, back to the world—even if that world had changed dramatically. This poem was a calling back.” (web)

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