In popular discourse Achilles’ heel features as metaphor for vulnerability. Similarly, to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve is to divulge emotional weakness, usually in the form of love. The poem started with an exploration of physical and emotional defencelessness. However, in researching for this post I was reminded that Achilles was a warrior. He was prone to anger and acted to avenge. He lived by the sword and died in combat. (In another version he is shot by the brother of a Trojan princess with whom he is in love, rather than perishing in battle.)
“From a Stone” engages with the frustrations of bringing forth a poem when it feels like drawing blood from an inanimate source. Like “Glomurelonephritis” this is one of the rare instances where my personal health experiences feature in a poem. For 31 years I have lived with a chronic renal (kidney) condition. The blood drawing analogy in “From a Stone” touches on my real experiences of ‘having bloods done’ (as they say in some hospital lingo). Putting my arm out to have blood siphoned from a vein still feels easier than many pursuits: writing poetry, doing press-ups or following my dreams.
On and off for thirty years,
the lone glow of green on a square
rarely reaches a dark 2g a day
most of the time
its tenure is lime to yellow:
the tiniest trace of proteinuria
which is a fancy way of expressing
I basically piss out the good stuff
In body awareness circles they say
this indicates self-hatred
Mostly it’s no big deal.
The poems to follow over the next few days may be difficult reads. That is, they draw on the tougher and more confusing experiences life throws at us such as health challenges, mortality, life’s disappointments and the indignities of ageing.
Glomerulonephritis refers to an inflammation of the glomeruli, which is responsible for filtration in the kidney. Inflammation results in an increase in excreted proteins. With decreased protein in the blood, the body swells with oedema. Dipsticks, with a small square of filter paper, are used to test how much protein might be present in the urine. Since the August after my second birthday, I have been on medication for glomerulonephritis. For decades I dismissed the presence of this circumstance. However over the last two years, I have become more vocal and self-indulgent about it.
I have small veins
that have been drawn
in sinks of scalding water
and vigorous smacking.
Stopped at the upper arm
and with a pumping fist,
the supply is best tapped by the finest needle.
It is sometimes easier
to siphon off blood on Tuesdays
for doctors’ records
than write poems twice a week.
For over three decades I have had my blood taken for medical records, which have been used as teaching material by the hospitals in which I have been treated. Results tallied from my blood, a product of my body, have made a contribution to the world. It is my hope that my writing may do so, too.
My body produces and pumps blood. Surely this same physical entity should be able to produce words? One of my current projects is to write two poems a week. Over a year, this should total 104 new pieces. I sit down daily and write many lines. Sometimes the ideas and deft formations flow with ease. On other occasions, it takes some needling.