Lucille Medwick Memorial Award - 2001
Mary Jane Nealon
HUMAN_HEADED BULL BELOW EMPTY SPACE
On the lapis cylinders from 2900 BC images of the domestic
and the wild wrestle demons and musical instruments.
A human-headed bull braces a dulcimer while a bear plays and a
nestles at their feet. From my life, one scene inscribed
like that, so for twenty years a girl appears and re-appears
in dreams. I am a young nurse, crisp uniform, high-polished
carrying specimens that must be dropped off, when,
in the late after-hours of a cancer center, I get turned around.
I am lost somewhere in radiology.
I slow down. In each darkened room, huge
machinery, and radioactive danger signs. Just minutes before,
on the ward where I worked, I massaged the feet of a boy
with testicular cancer. I rubbed his arch, and on a sketch pad
he drew hands with charcoal. Precise lines he smeared
with his thumb. You know, I just thought I was bigger
than the other boys in gym class, he said, and added his own feet
to the drawing of my hands. Now the night has stopped itself
in this hall, and in my memory of him, the air is all enormous
cathedral. I turn left, and see a girl, whose back is to me,
standing before the new ultra-modern scanner, alone, arms
her blue and white striped hospital robe, too large for her
has fallen, and her hair, which I know will soon fall out, is
and just barely reaches her hip. I watch her for how beautiful
for how faithful she is to her position there, her arms held
for how she could be anyone, for how she could be me. The technician
arrives, directs me, directs her, and I resume the pace of
Some nights I dream I am photographing her, or painting her.
that I have seen the treasures of Ur, I dream I am carving
onto a lapis cylinder, then roll her onto parchment.
She is my link to a moment still before me in my life, before
I had cleaned the body of my father, newly-dead. A moment
who I am is variable. I might have been the bear making music,
or the obedient human-headed bull supporting heavy strings.
But I have been frozen again. Mesmerized by my father's freckled
as I turn him to place below him, a clean sheet,
one the funeral workers can take with them. I love the way his |
accepts his false teeth, I touch the black sores on both heels,
and the yellow, tobacco-stained nails of his right hand.
I carve the sight of him on my retina, roll him
across my cornea, his arms, like hers, once reaching out,
And I know, because I have never forgotten her, that this moment
with him will
last, just the two of us, in the middle of the night, before I call
to help. I sit down for a while, slide my hand under his, and
Because now I have raised her up. Because now I have laid him
I tell her story to a friend who writes.
Maybe he will want to take her, and I will be able to let go
the responsibility of her fate, which has tracked me through
like a lion. Or the boy, whose testicular tumor
grew to incorporate his brain. Instead, my friend tells me his
a night when he watched a dog from his city window.
Framed by the building's edge, the alley's long line,
the light from an unknown source, moon maybe, streetlight,
curled, was reduced to form, his head and tail equal and still.
He remembers. I remember. The dog as girl as my father as a boy
as witness. Obedience and repose. My father is a dog a girl a boy
a human-headed bull falling below empty space, and it occurs
that it is this which held us, this is what haunts, how we both saw,
for a moment, the empty space we are destined to fall through.