On Stilts

She was the only child, she says — she never
got to play. Mother put her to work as soon
as she could walk, a brand-new list of chores
every morning. Pennsylvania Germans
were very judgmental, she says,
her eyes made enormous by thick glasses.
Whenever anything bad happened, it could only be
punishment for some slip: the Lord is good.

Now, with both parents dead, she thought
she was unlikely ever to go back.
But after the surgery, she had to lie prone
for two weeks while her eyes refilled with fluid.
Short trips to the bathroom were O.K.,
as long as she didn’t look at anything
but the floor. If she tilted her head back just once,
the ophthalmologist warned, her eyes might collapse
into their sockets. She felt like a slug,
complete with retractable eyestalks.

Her husband bought her a laptop
& placed it on a chair at the foot of the bed
where she could comfortably reach the keys,
& she bookmarked pictures of the sky.
They helped her fall asleep — a few, difficult hours
wrested from the interminable wakefulness.
She dreamt of crossing darkened fields
& forests on tall stilts, the lamp-lit kitchens
of her childhood teetering below.

14 Replies to “On Stilts”

  1. Sounds like a vitrectomy (sp?), not a surgery one would wish on anyone, yet one which may rescue one’s sight. The story of the poem makes me sad.

  2. mb – Yes, this is (loosely) based on a second-hand story about someone who had a vitrectomy to treat diabetic retinopathy.

    dale – I’m flattered that you think so.

  3. I too thought this was wonderful, so many layers of images and emotion, whilst seeming very simple.

    But I’m failing to picture the bed/laptop layout. Does she have an external keyboard? if not, how does she reach the keyboard if the laptop is at the foot of the bed? Of course, the fact that question won’t leave me alone is a tribute to how vividly you have evoked the rest of the scene.

  4. Thanks, Dick and Jean. I’ll obviously have to make some changes if the image isn’t clear (she’s lying on her stomach, stretching her arms down over the edge of the bed). Maybe I’ll make it a chair rather than a stool, for those accustomed to high beds.

    (Update) O.K., let me know if that makes it any clearer.

  5. Well, duh, if I’d known that the meaning of prone was no tjust lying down but lying face down, it wouldn’t have been unclear at all – and even without that I should have been able to work out that she had to be face down in order not to tip head back!

  6. you are blessed (or cursed) with a colorful imagination.

    this sentence reminds me of what passes for a “fortune” in today’s fortune cookies. not really about the future, just a statement

  7. qrr – I like those kind of fortunes; thanks! The future is boring — there’s nothing in it yet. That’s why a good diviner or therapist makes predictions about the past, instead.

    I agree that there’s a very thin line between curse and blessing.

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