Photo credit: Dominik Hofbauer for Unsplash
This morning, when 9 a.m. came
and went and still my daughter
didn’t wake, I tensed with fear
she never would.
I can’t be alone in this.
Last night, in a Tex-Mex parking lot,
she asked if heart attacks
are preventable. We were
strolling back to the car.
I would like to say I paused then,
a quiet hand cupped to her shoulder,
and turned us both toward the light
of Orion. Off in the gravel,
I wish I could add, a vulture
steadily picked at garbage.
But those would be lies.
Which aren’t nice.
Yes, I said eagerly.
Yes—well, mostly they are.
But in my defense: what the hell?
Is that a seven-year-old question?
If nothing else, it’s the second helping
of enchiladas I shouldn’t salt.
And it’s the treadmill that arrived
last March, still boxed in the garage.
Driving back from the restaurant, we passed
a billboard that said Reflection Taxidermy.
What I’m trying to say is, last spring,
while hiking, we were surprised
to come to a waterfall.
It rippled smoothly
down roots and boulders,
which had all been turned
the eeriest green. We could have stayed
on the trail, but we climbed instead
to the field above,
the cold creek,
and sloshed upstream
until it was clear
we would never find
anything like a source.
What if that was the best of it?
Tonight, in the car, she tells me
about a book she started—
the spark for her question
about blocked arteries. The dad died,
she says. The boy’s dad, in the story.
Heart attack. It was sad. But maybe not
so important? I don’t know yet.
I haven’t gotten very far.
She reads on her own now.
Her voice had come from the dark
backseat, where soon
she’s fast asleep. As fast as the deer
that graze in the weeds
and stand perfectly still
when headlights sweep.
I take the turns slowly,
this long drive home another story
we won’t get to finish together.
Woods Nash is Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the Fertitta Family College of Medicine, University of Houston. His poems and essays have been published by the Bellevue Literary Review, Journal of the American Medical Association, Louisville Review, Academic Medicine, Journal of Medical Humanities, and elsewhere. He serves as co-chair of Off Script: Stories from the Heart of Medicine, a twice-annual medical storytelling event that has been hosted by numerous venues in Houston, Texas.