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poet Kristen Hoggatt

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Damage

by Kristen Hoggatt-Abader

 

for Gabrielle Giffords

 

Of the five beds in the ICU
the only thing moving
was the damaged brain

.

I was of two brains
wasn’t I?
One of them was indisposed
I rose to the ceiling
and gazed at the damage below me

.

The pressure gauge needle aimed at red
and the top doc said Ah
That’s why the skin puffs out under the eyes
That’s the brain swell
indiscriminate in cases of TBI
Traumatic Brain Injury
The mother calls a priest
The father calls his lawyer friends
The sister stares at the fire extinguisher propped in the corner
seething at its red

.

A nurse and a doctor become one
tending the wet organ
A nurse and a doctor and a damaged brain
become one
late into the night
the doctor the brain’s borrowed pulse
the nurse its hand that sets the bone

.

I don’t know which to prefer
the beauty of the hospital’s silence at midnight
or the beauty of the hospital at midnight
when a rolling stretcher breaks its hum

.

This is not woodshop but the same principles apply
as a drill removes a piece of skull
Bits of bone drop to the floor
like irrational wooden dowels
One doc says Hold it steady
The cynic Watch your thumb

.

The brain rules the body
so when it’s away the body rebels
collapsed lungs broken jaw
extra bone growth in the knee
A hole in the neck helps it breathe

.

The damaged brain can’t signal the tongue to speak
The tongue is not damaged but it too feels the bruise
pulsing

.

When nobody’s listening the damaged brain says
NIPPLE

.

Even when the brain understands the words
double vision won’t let it read
Double vision is like having floaters in the eye
that are patterned to the scene

.

O skinny LPNs in your droopy scrubs
you loathe rolling over the body
to secure the piss pot under its bum
Celebrate that the brain is coming
the damaged brain!

.

I know numbers colors A through Z
the vocab of being
ten years old
I know I’m eighteen
I know chicken licked off the wing
but the damaged brain wants cinnamon and cumin seed
a fat purple crayon to color outside the lines

.

It was winter well into March
bone cold but no layer of white
softening the severe rocks on the horizon
The damaged brain hid behind a skull
shaved and scarred by a nonnative tribe

I am still a brain
knotted and crossed
by grooves of wisdom
that made the scalpel pause

Damage rocked through the brain like cat yowls
through the alley way that never
stop


 

Vocabulary Lessons

 

Lesson 1—“Stress”

“What’s the meaning, haboob,
in English?”

Haboob?
‘Dust storm.’”

“This ‘dust storm’ on your face
for two month.”

“Oh, you mean
‘pimple.’ “Haboob
can also mean ‘pimple.’”

“This ‘bimbel’ in your face
for two month.”

“This ‘pimple’ has been
on my face for two months—
I know. It’s stress.”

Yani eh, ‘stress?’”

“‘Stress,’ like when you’re scared
for no good reason.”

“No, no ‘stress.’
From the wedding party—
guests give you hasad.”

“The evil eye?!”

Ah walahi!
Because you beautiful.
We have people this way in Egypt.
Guests also give you ‘chress.’”

“No, it’s ‘stress.’”

“What’s the meaning,
‘stress’? Khaifa men eh?

“I’m not scared of anything,
really, just of bad carbs
and the imminent rebellion
of those tiny dogs
that women tote in their handbags.”

“Nermeen doesn’t make a baby.
She angry with her husband.”

“They’ve only been married
for two months!”

Yani eh?

Yani, they need
more time.”

“Why?”

“Stress.”

“‘Stress?’”

“‘Stress.”’

Lesson 2—“Mayonnaise”

“The girl in the taqueria is understanding
Arabic.”

“Really? How do you know?”

“I say ‘pescado burrito’ in Arabic
and I get pescado burrito.”

“What’s ‘pescado burrito’ in Arabic?”

“‘Pescado burrito.’”

“And she understood that?”

“‘Kamen’ in Arabic is
‘tambien’ in Spanish.”

“That’s cool!”

“It is same, no, close—
what I say?

“It is ‘similar.’”

“It is ‘similar.’
Do you want some
‘pescado burrito?’”

“No thanks, I don’t eat mayonnaise.”

“What’s the meaning,
‘mayohnees?’”

“ ‘Mayonnaise’—that
oily white stuff.”

“Why? It is good!
Yani eh, ta’m?

“Flavor.”

“Good flavor,
‘mayohnees.’
Easy.”

“What do you mean, ‘easy?’”

“This ‘easy.’ Put it on
and make stuff better.”

Lesson 3—“Forbidden”

“Don’t tell your friends
that we find this in the street.”

“Why?”

“Because, it’s haram.”

“But I cleaned them!”

“Still, haram.”

“Why?”

“Because they’re coming from the street!”

“But I cleaned them!”

“You don’t listen:
haram.”

Lesson 4—“Forbidden”

“Gamal, you really should stop calling people
fat.”

“But they are fat.”

“But people don’t say so here.
It’s considered rude.”

“What’s the meaning,
‘rude?’”

“You know, I don’t remember.
Mish qwais.”

“Like haram?”

“Yes, exactly like haram.”

Lesson 5—“A little bit”

“Can you help me?”

“What you need?”

“I’m trying to translate this poem.
What’s this mean, nabiyeth?

“No, listen: nabithu.”

“Nabidu?”

“No, nabithu. It means like
‘a little bit.’”

“But the dictionary
says it means ‘wine.’”

“Yes, it does.”

“It means both?”

“Yes.”

“But the dictionary—”

“Look Kris,
this book is full
of paper.”

Lesson 6—“Meaning”

“I need something to give
the poem more meaning.”

“What’s the meaning,
‘meaning?’”

“You know what it means!”

“Yes, but I think it means
something different
to you.”

Lesson 7—“My love”

“Kris!”

“What?”

“I read your poem!”

“Really? Do you like it?”

“Yeah.”

“Can you understand it?”

“Only a little bit.”

“What part do you understand?”

“I told you not to tell your friends
that we found those things in the street.”

“I didn’t tell my friends.”

“You wrote a poem about it!”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Listen—
‘Don’t tell your friends
that we find this in the street.’
It’s right here!”

“Habiby, that poem’s about us.”

 

 

 

BIO

Kristen Hoggatt’s chapbook of poems, ARAB WINTER, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2014. In addition to previously appearing in The Writing Disorder, her poems have been published in journals including The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Ledge Magazine, Nimrod International, and The Smart Set, where she was also the “Ask a Poet” advice columnist from 2008-2011. She is currently a Lecturer in composition at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

 

 

 

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