Fear Is a Paper-Trail Inside Your Body
It is a map to a place you once knew, a college town, a park made of oak trees and woodpeckers, the rented rooms in California. The map has become second-nature and familiar, like an organ of the body. In the house, you don’t think about where you’re going, you just move down hallways and through doors. You can still see the campus in your mind, the copper beech, the way feet have worn small bowls in the marble of the library steps. You are intimate with the order of it. Its orientation in you in space.
The map is more like a machine than a piece of paper. You think maybe it should slip away, as memories do. It does not. It keeps running its program behind your eyes. It leads you without much mental effort. Years later, you can put one foot in front of the other while doing something else—talking on the phone, for instance, or looking at the sky—and arrive at the field of bobolinks, even if the bobolinks aren’t there anymore. But chances are they are—squeaking and crinking like digital birds, and the trail inside your body still works.
It is unnerving, this news that there are runways inside you, with engines taking off. Organs flying at cruising altitude all night long, over the Pacific, while you try to sleep. You spend years not paying attention to the way your heart beats, or even that it beats. But then, when you try to recall specifically what it feels like—to run with it, to hike the canyon with it, to love with it humming and racing up and down in tune to what your body demands of it, to sit in the dark with it, all alone—you can’t remember it, not precisely. Just the idea of it having been. The way a map is not the land itself, but a representation. The way a heartbeat is not the organ, but the organ speaking.
In the scan of my head
there are lakes,
frozen and lit. At altitude,
sockets of snow.
In the door of my head
left burning where I crave
the doused dark.
The doctor’s voice is a mouthful
of cloud. She spits out words
sequela foci lesions
that flit on dull, contiguous wings
through dizzy weather.
In the sky of my head
and the fields inside.
Hands cupping water.
The doctor’s sorry pulses sorry
across the black between
each bright ovoid—avoid? a void?—
those prints from some small god.
What are the names of the stars?
In the bell of my head
In the lake of my head
there are lakes.
There are moths. No.
There are wicks with wicked flames.
Linda Dove holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance literature and teaches college writing. She is also an award-winning poet, and her books include In Defense of Objects (2009), O Dear Deer, (2011), This Too (2017), and the scholarly collection of essays, Women, Writing, and the Reproduction of Culture in Tudor and Stuart Britain (2000). Poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America. She lives with her human family, two Jack Russell terriers, and three backyard chickens in the foothills east of Los Angeles, where she serves as the faculty editor of MORIA Literary Magazine at Woodbury University.