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Image by Clay Banks

Dialysis Before Daybreak

We join scant others on backroads.  Most cars carry
one driver.  We carry each other, at least for now.

Stars fleck the fading midnight blue as Venus, low
in the sky, kisses the rim of the mountains’ face.

Two days ago, a fire roared on the distant range, thick
fog dispersed an eerie glow, seeping between maple

branches edging the asphalt.  Is someone
hurt?  Are the flames spreading?  Last week,

torrential rains each trip, windshield wipers
clicking in too quick a tempo. Soon winter

will snarl its frigid presence in a fury of sleet
and snow.  What if I can’t get you to the center?

No one has prepared us.  No one has prepared us for much
of anything in this throbbing dance of needles and tubes

taunting your flesh, pulsing your poisoned blood
through a rinse cycle.  Horrifying, miraculous.

You have dozed off again.  I’m comforted by
your breath.  Slow, steady.  Music of our sphere.

Shifting Beach

Even with his back to me, wading
knee deep in the morning’s
soft waves, I sense erosion.

He says he’s losing pounds
on purpose, but I know this is not
true.  He has that look of decline.

Sunken shoulders arch forward.  Skin,
taut from the top of the arm, sluices
across a newly-formed ravine below

the sudden rise to brittle clavicle.
He’s tired more often, walks more
slowly.  In small tremors, his body opens

to deepening faults.  My genteel mother
always taught me not to dwell on bodily
functions.  It’s not polite conversation.

But you and I, my love, are past the realm
of the superficial.  We must face the surge
of stark truth.  Your kidneys sustained

your bay of blood as long as possible.
Returning home, we close our
eyes, conjure aquamarine 

and the sound of surf swelling,
the sea forever changing.
We have shared gold.

The Sentence

Now we know.  Was it going to be
your bone marrow producing too
many red cells or your pancreas
failing to produce enough insulin?

We linger in bed after the alarm, 
converse about politics, our country 
fracturing.  Or about climate change 
as refugees roam for food and shelter,

which we have always taken for granted.
We skirt your treatment until we can no 
longer ignore the doctor’s decree  ̶  dialysis.
Banished from our known world, you

shall be chained to a machine, a glorious
detention, offering a fragile future.
Even with our many blessings, we want
more.  To be human is to be so greedy.

We must create a new lexicon,
shape our denouement.

Terry S. Johnson recently settled in Alaska after a lifetime in New England.  She has performed as a professional harpsichordist before serving as a public school teacher for many years.  Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Driftwood, Edge, Journal of the American Medical Association, Passager and Theodate.  Her first collection, Coalescence, won a 2014 Honorable Mention in the New England Book Festival, and her second book, Plunge, launched in 2019.  www.terrysjohnsonpoet.com


  1. John

    Beautiful subtle poems of grief. We have so much grief, we humans, that spinning that into gold is welcome for us all.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you for your kind words about my work. Terry


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