Holtz Children's Hospital, 2022

I still think it’s worth a shot. I’ll think of / tulips, of Plath.

Holtz Children's Hospital, 2022
Photo by National Cancer Institute / Unsplash

by Bella Rotker

It begins with the swelling. Another round
       of pills. There is no way to describe

   it other than the blood breaking

in a beaker on my doctor’s desk. The elevator
       ringing through the southeast ward. The sound

   of the car engine after I’m told there is no

treatment. I read Lucie Brock Broido
       and WebMD, the phone rings.

   Dr. Young says it’s dangerous even

to breathe. I still think it’s worth a shot. I’ll think of
       tulips, of Plath. I’ll yell when the gauze

   comes out of the incisions and the blood

pools in the hardwood paneling. The neighbors call
       and ask if everything is okay. I grip

   my throat and no sound comes out. It’s not silence

but something closer to maybe. I have
       learned the best places to muffle

   the sounds of my sickness. In waiting

rooms, alcohol-streaked beds, at my desk
       into a copy of Frank: Sonnets.

   Dr. Hogan apologizes when he sees me

in another paper gown. Dr. Trujillo draws
       the blood himself. Parts of me are always

   drawn, excised, kept in beakers. Parts are tucked

behind paper gowns and poems. I read
       Carolyn Forche at the cardiologist

   and the nurse tells me to put the book

away. I tell her that I am becoming a poet,
       not because I can hear my heart beating

   right through my skull most days, but because

I swear I might die if she doesn’t know
       anything this time. Poems unwrite

   themselves like blood draws. Stitches are ripped out

and re-implanted. Like the legacy poets,
       I am untangling this horribleness

   into sonnets made of my suffering,

like organs spilling out of my stomach.
       I tell the nutritionist I’ve been

   chewing my lettuce dutifully

and she checks a box. I quote Plath
       in the OR and no one laughs.

Bella Rotker studies at Interlochen Arts Academy. Their work appears in The Lumiere Review, Full Mood Mag, Neologism, and Best American High School Writing, among others. When she’s not writing or fighting the patriarchy, Bella’s hanging out with friends, watching the lakes, and looking for birds.