Poem of the Week | December 08, 2014

This week we’re deeply honored to feature a poem by Claudia Emerson. Emerson passed away last week at 57. A greatly accomplished voice and respected teacher, she contributed to the literary world a number of poetry titles, including Late Wife, which won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize. She also edited the 2010 Best New Poets anthology. Emerson has been awarded individual artist’s fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts; she was a Witter Bynner fellow through the Library of Congress and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2012. Between 2008 and 2010, she served as Virginia’s poet laureate. She taught in the MFA program at VCU before she passed away. “Infusion Suite” was originally published in our fall 2013 issue 36.3.


Infusion Suite




She puts on the protective gown for this one,
sky-blue, crepe paper-like. She asks again
for me to verify name, date of birth,
checking what I say against the information
on the small plastic bag she shows to me
before hanging it upside down, its contents
impossibly clear, benign looking
as water coursing the clearest bore—
umbilical-like that almost invisible line.
The trees outside the tall window appear
still full with summer, crows’ flight—more
like drunken tumbling—something to see
while I agree that yes, yes, this is me.




The poplars outside this place an old stand,
their trunks rise, slender nudes that sway in a rush
of wind and sun. At the tree’s edge, someone
has hung feeders to distract us from ourselves,
and so I don’t look at her when she says
to the screen of her computer that my blood
numbers are good, better, in fact, than last


time. Hour after hour, we watch birds circle
the plastic cylinders of sunflower seed,
cling to the caged cakes of suet swinging
from tall hooked poles—not unlike ours, I like
to think, their source of flight gravity-measured—
a given, too—and we are all radiant with it.




The surgery was a flash
fire in the yard, folks


nearly delirious
with rakes and hoses, their


faces hot with it.
This place is the slow


burn they watch, if they do,
at a safer distance, as


they might a neighbor’s field
smoldering, glad it’s


not their own, their concern
now the direction of


the wind, a chance of rain.




Leonard, he shrugs the name-patch on his shirt;
his cancer back after a good year and a half;
it’s worse this time; then tells me just as much


a matter of fact he is a mechanic
at the collision place, his specialty the under-


carriage of a car after a wreck,
realignment, the stuff nobody ever sees
and will never notice unless—no, until—


it gets out of whack; he’s lucky, though,
his brother’s bone marrow a match, the one
he had not spoken to in thirty years;


he will go in to work tomorrow, has to, that new guy—
he shrugs again—some brand new kind of stupid.




The trees redden beneath it, before loss,
becoming livid with this: rain, cold, windless—
shadowless the light, the sky a low


opalescence. This one a quieter day,
the room empties earlier. I eat
a bowl of soup from the table I make


of my lap. Later, I will win at scrabble,
studying my sorry trough of letters—
cause double its worth, though, and I puzzle it


with Uz—as in Job, as in the land of—triple—
cheating, really, but we agree we will
let it go this time, all my words small


but costly, and my accounting of them perfect.





The old woman next to me does not speak
all day, not even to the young girl who came


to be with her, a granddaughter, perhaps,
with nails painted the same electric blue


she used to paint her grandmother’s nails,
and perhaps she was the one who plaited


the single tight gray braid—a pinned, frayed


aura around her head. Her eyes occluded,
clouded over, the older woman appears


to look me in the eye, though, to hold me in
an iron-steady gaze, the cataracts


small blinds she has early drawn down,
defiant, and she stands behind having done it.