Poem of the Week | December 09, 2019

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Emergency Intramedullary Rod Removal” by Brandi Nicole Martin!

Brandi Nicole Martin’s poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in the Cincinnati Review, Prairie Schooner, Colorado Review, Bennington Review, Willow Springs, Redivider, and At Length, among others. She is pursuing her PhD at Florida State University, where she was the recipient of the 2016 Emerging Writer’s Spotlight Award, selected by D.A. Powell.


Emergency Intramedullary Rod Removal


When the doctor said we’d commence in an hour,
I remembered a stage, the chic slant of my leg
when I did ballet, and he spoke the phrase pain no
human being could withstand
—abnormally ordered,
choreographed—carnations thrown back then in condolence
for my ignorance of who gets chopped—snap of fishbone,
airy gray—and I gripped the hilt of my cane—a wheelchair
a year ago, a ship adrift in a sterile hall—because bodies
are always mapped and framed in waiting rooms, as if I might
turn left to find an exit, some country where grief is navigable
as a ligament, and he said come with me but I couldn’t yet,
until I’d swung a fist and a jar of cotton balls dropped
to the floor, shards resembling a tiny blighted windshield,
each bloodless white clump a perfect miniature,
a woman bowed in ache, her daughter missing,
her husband dead in bed a room away.


Author’s Note

The lines in “Emergency Intramedullary Rod Removal” about the framed maps of bodies in waiting rooms (how easy those images seem, how complicated my own body has been in comparison) began in 2009, a few short months after the surgery this poem references. I was just back at college after a year of physical trauma so severe that it absolutely should have killed me, and I was writing directly from that pain, attempting with each scalpel image to fumble my way back to normalcy, staple scars still fresh up the outsides of both of my thighs. Writing was grasping at control. I’ve been obsessively circling the same subject matter since then, for a decade now, re-trying lines until I’m able to see my near-death in a more nuanced way, which, in this poem, is where ballet enters. I rarely write about adolescence. I rarely let myself miss the teenage me, the one who went to dance classes, went to work at a beachside café, and hadn’t been physically crushed yet. In poetry, I’ve always found it easy to shock. It’s been much harder for me to think about what I’ve lost, and to show my grief for the complex entity that it really is. In this poem, my writing needed time to become a deeper landscape, a three-dimensional fun house mirror where I could set several versions of myself next to each other—a Me in pirouette, a Me who might not survive, who I might never meet, and a Me running a palm over my legs, calling my mom, preparing to give myself up to the gurney again. I will never be able to let go of my obsessions, but I’m eager to see how they’ll grow in my work ten years from now.