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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, July 13, 2018.
About this Poem 

“This specific new research about the deleterious effects of alcohol on the human body coupled with the daily horrors of the political era we’re living through feels like a bit of a conundrum, doesn’t it? Oh, and obviously, there’s a line of Tennyson’s creeping around in here, just to give the appropriate shout-out. I’ve also spent the last few years patiently waiting to get my all-time favorite drinking toast into a poem. Cheers!”
—Erin Belieu

Pity the Doctor, Not the Disease

Science in its tedium reveals
that each spirit we spirit

ganks a solid half hour from
our life spans.

Or so says my doctor, a watery,

Jesus-eyed man, and hard to suffer
with his well-intended scrips for yoga

and neti pots, notably stingy with the better

drugs, in situ here amongst the disinfected
toys dreadful in their plastic baskets.

Above his head, the flayed men of medical
illustration are nailed for something like

décor. The eyeball scheme is best,

with its wondrous Canal of Schlemm,
first favorite of all weirdly named

eponymous body parts. It’s just a splotch
of violet on the diagram, but without which

our aqueous humours would burst
their meshy dams and overflow. Tears,

idle tears…so sad, so fresh the days
that are no more…
is what I quote to him

as he thumps my back with his tiny
doctor’s’ tomahawk. But he’s used to me.

We have an understanding. What he
means to miser, I’ve come to spend

most lavishly. And I feel fortunate again,

to be historically shaky in the maths,
enough to avoid making an easy sum

of my truly happy hours, or nights curled 

sulfurous on my side, a priced-to-sell
shrimp boiling in anxious sleep.

If we’re lucky, it’s always a terrible time

to die. Better the privilege of booze
than the whim of one more shambolic

butcher shelling peasants in a wood,
our world’s long spree of Caesars

starting wars to pay their bills
in any given era’s Rome. Turns out,

Lord Alfred’s stomach did for him,
and he died thirsty, calling for more opium.

Free of the exam room now, I spot the same

tattered goldfish in his smeary bowl
beside the door where he’s glugged along

for years, a mostly failed distraction

for poxed or broken children. I raise my fin
to him, celebrate the poison we’re all

swimming in, remembering the way
you say cheers in Hungarian:

Isten Isten, meaning, in translation,
“I’m a god. You’re a god.”

 

 

Copyright © 2018 by Erin Belieu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Erin Belieu. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Erin Belieu

Erin Belieu

Erin Belieu was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on September 25, 1967, and received a BFA from the University of Nebraska, an MFA from Ohio State University, and an MA from Boston University.

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When I think of the many people
who privately despise children,
I can't say I'm completely shocked,

having been one. I was not
exceptional, uncomfortable as that is
to admit, and most children are not

exceptional. The particulars of 
cruelty, sizes Large and X-Large, 
memory gnawing it like

a fat dog, are
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                                      Come, Lord, and lift the fallen bird
                                      Abandoned on the ground;
                                      The soul bereft and longing so
                                      To have the lost be found…


Before

2
poem

Mother, I'm trying
to write
a poem to you—


which is how most
poems to mothers must
begin—or, What I've wanted
to say, Mother.
..but we
as children of mothers,
even when mothers ourselves,

cannot bear our poems
to them. Poems to