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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, October 20, 2016.
About this Poem 

“In the winter of 2010 my partner and I traveled to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but first we stayed two nights in Cusco at 11,000 feet to acclimatize for the trek. The night before we were supposed to leave on the three day hike I got the worst food poisoning of my life and between the vomiting and the elevation I was disoriented and terrified. As I was so sick and stuck abroad and so unsure of what would happen next, it brought to mind my mother’s mental illness, her many suicide attempts, her loneliness and helplessness in hotel rooms all over the world as she traveled alone and suffered through psychotic episodes.”
—Patricia Colleen Murphy

How I Almost Died in Peru

The mounting list of things I needed but
could not get. I tried to put on a sweater

but I was too small. The ceiling was too big.
The water wouldn’t stay where I swallowed it.

I stepped into a bath that was hotter
than expected, which quickly became

colder than expected. I brought a cherry
to my lips, bitter as a piece of grass.

The air was so thin that after several steps
everything pixilated like a cartoon bomb.

Then I saw mother’s nails
drumming the countertop.

Then I saw her tightening the knot.

Copyright © 2016 by Patricia Colleen Murphy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2016 by Patricia Colleen Murphy. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 20, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

Patricia Colleen Murphy

Patricia Colleen Murphy

Patricia Colleen Murphy is the author of Hemming Flames (Utah State University Press, 2016).