Head Injury
Gabrielle Burton

It’s kind of like a boxer, the doctor said.
You get hit in the head,
and this is as good as it gets.
No, that’s not what she said.
The last part was about the spine and medication.
What was it that she said? Gray haze settles.
The distance from the words
that tumble, jumbled and thick,
from the arms-length space in the brain
that holds them, holds them and will not let go—
is infinite. A sideways eight sign.
I like numbers. I used to be good at math.
I used to remember your phone number.
It floats peacefully just below the surface — a slice
of stagnant water sealing off the swimming,
drifting dust. A greedy brain locks up
its precious bits of pearl and tosses
perfect counterfeits to an unsuspecting ear.
Donkey tails nearly hit their mark.
Or did you give it to me?
A tiny slur, mostly mastered, escapes from the tongue
like the stench of cheap gasoline
burned through motor gears, the Oz
behind the curtain, if you really care to look.
No one cares. A head that used to live
in ivy towers, interpret the scrawl
of James Joyce’s hand, win fellowships as if
they were Dora stickers, talk shop with Seamus,
Klinkenborg, and that playwright Kennedy, is just
a box. Hit it enough and the marbles crack,
the microscopic lines visible only to the jeweler.
The doctor writes: “Acceptable for her age.”

I close my eyes, listen to breaking
metal. The pressure pushes in, in. The punch
in the head is not soft but hardly there, so fast—a drop
in the bucket? My cup runneth over.
My seat is not where it used to be. An object
stops when meeting equal resistance.
I open my eyes. My legs can move, do move,
dislodge a swell of relief. A cell phone, cars
rubbernecking, a siren flashing,
but all is silent. Everything is in and out
of focus, reflections in pieces of glass.
Glass is liquid and solid. The body
can break like glass.

A young man runs a red light.
My pregnancy test was negative at the truck stop this morning.
Thoughts of babies and needles and bugs on my windshield
knock out of my head as it hits the window glass.
His white truck drives into my rearview mirror,
smashing shards of light. An object of resistance.
Months of physical therapy, drug-laced bloodstreams,
tests in cold rooms on computers and ocular machines.
The numbness when I sit or stand or lie or move
informs every moment, like a runt’s bobbed tail
that wags too short, cruelly blunt—
feeling all in feeling nothing.
Allowed to rest, the body is a question mark,
an old-man’s hunch and hopping limp—so,
like the old do, let it uncurl and slowly
bloom upright again to join the post-Neanderthals.
Something wrong with my bowels—just ignore it.
Keep moving forward, invest in detergent,
keep your underwear clean. Lights
all yellow now—slower but still not
stopped. Be glad for that. Flinch—
smile—explain. It’s not
your touch, just a nerve gone wiry, a brain misfiring,
remembering perhaps a reflection in broken
glass. Matter can be controlled; I just need to see it
coming, if I could have seen it coming—
“What is the matter with you?” I look up
and my heart thrills at the wind in the cottonwood leaves.