In Media Res: Poetry by Carlene Gadapee


On my 48th birthday my mother called, saying 
Happy Birthday, followed by, Do you have symptoms yet? 
Some gift. Some birthright.  Not yet, I replied, aghast. Not yet.

At my age–50–my mother
saw signs that nothing was as it ought to be.
Oculopharyngeal Muscular Dystrophy is a grim inheritance

Passed matrilineally, like lace handkerchiefs or wedding rings.
Shuffle-walking, eyelids permanently low, and
Swallowing must become an intentional act.

The rattle of a wooden rosary 
dropped into a delicate white porcelain box
sounds like pebbles hitting a coffin lid.

I learned to open the child-proof cap:
push down, twist, try again. Be careful
not to drop the aspirins, balanced in my small, cupped hand.

At my age–50–my grandmother
was three years away from cancer. Quietly, secretly, 
cells colonized her body, an aching fatigue too easily explained:

hard work, long hours standing on her feet. The ache increased,
as did the bottle of Bufferin
balanced on the sink’s porcelain edge. 

The rattle of small white tablets,
shaken four at a time, sounds like
iron chain links dropping into a wooden box.


…or the day might dwindle down to nothing.
Shadows creep under the roses, here, 
and by the edge of the deck.

I will remember what sunlight feels like,
I will feel its searing embrace.
I will tuck that memory aside. 

We enter a land of chill, of cold, of endings 
and bleak grey. There is a stark beauty 
in this sparseness, contours clarified, bare 
to the sky. The light is flat, and clouds muffle sounds.

Have you ever heard birdsong more plaintive? 

It may be after a loss, or the memory of a loss.
Sunlight falls short. This is the lesson:
Wisdom warbles through sadness, calls to me. 

In vain, I stop to listen, intent on what birds may say.
They do not speak upon command.

I must craft my own anthem. I might tell you, if you want to hear, 
what I have learned. Never master nor indifferent scholar,
O, to be a wordsmith, a weaver of words. I can sing.

wave starkly like crazyorchestral violin sections, desperate major league 
baseball batters swinging wildly at invisiblepitches. Our roof cracks and swoops, 
an angry eagle’s wing mowing down small trees, chasingcats, and crashing into sheds.

I glance at the sky, heart racing, even though there’s no wind and little rain. 
Damage imagined. Cars hiss by. 

Carlene Gadapee earned her Masters Degree in both Education and Liberal Studies from Northern Vermont University.

About the contributor

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