by Karen Kolb

emily coleman

spring 2016


Look for asterixis,

The attending says, 

His arms outstretched,

Glaringly white above you. 


I sit down next to you,

Is it okay if I listen? I ask.

You pull up your gown

Reflexively obeying me.


Your belly, stretched and bloated





I begin to listen

I hear nothing

Just a haunting silence.

Unsure, I look to the attending.


He nods, and his eyes tell me

He knows this silence too.

I take off the stethoscope

My fingers timidly reaching,

Gliding over your stomach.


You look at me

Through the fog

That was now encircling you,

Trapping you.


The fog confused you,

Yet still you sensed:


We would not cure you.


I press down on your taut skin

Nothing gives way

Hard, unforgiving.

I smile at you uneasily.


Is this tender?
You nod vaguely in response,

Your eyes are far away.

I wonder where you have gone.


What memories sustain you now?

Where are you in your mind, without your body?

I imagine you somewhere,

Brimming with life.


Can I percuss? I ask

You nod,

I tap and listen

The dull sound reverberates.


That noise lingers,

Hovers hauntingly

Yet once more, I tap

And once more, 

It echoes.


A harbinger of your fate

Your destiny, manifested.


It is now gut wrenchingly clear to me:

We will not heal you.


What once gave others life

Is now reclaiming yours.

The object of your husband’s affection;

The herald of your demise.


That ugly growth

Now spreading insidiously

Thrashing its tentacles

Wreaking havoc in you.


Piercing and unforgiving,

The lump cruelly ramified

Deepening its grasp

Mutating, transforming.


I wonder if you know

How badly I wish

We could heal you.  


I’m sorry,

I’m so, so sorry.

I hope you left this world in peace

I hope you forgave us

For what we could not do.