The Faltering

  1. The Cardiology Unit: The Day Before The Pacemaker-Defibrillator Procedure

2 Walker_FalteringI say it is a matter of heart     my husband’s     in its faltering,     in its failure to keep pace     and my inability to understand the penetralium of this place     of this tectonic shift,     the earth in its constant state of change.

Here     on the 8th floor     1305 York Avenue, NYC     10:00 a.m.     he arrives for an echocardiogram and pre-op bloodwork.  Here in the Waiting Room,     consider stylishness,     the comforting cool blue-gray walls, the magazines, none dated 6-8 months ago.     Waiting rooms are a large part of a patient’s healthcare experience. Do not consider others who wait: those in wheelchairs,     those hobbling with canes     or those who are young     and seem not to belong in this realm of Faltering.

Here in another room scarcely larger than a shoebox, a technician takes Albert’s blood—     three vials of it,    blood full of answers.  I watch and think:     red blood cells, white cells    think platelets, hemoglobin, corpuscles,   I am boarding up glass windows     moving against fear. “Do what you are trained to do            to overcome dread;”      I think of poetry,  of Naomi Nye asking:     “where can the crying heart graze?”

I am married to a Brit;     he is not au fait     when it comes to determinations of blood,     and though I plead with the air,      I bloody-well don’t want his heart put out to pasture.

  1. 525 East 68th Street: NYP Cornell—Surgery

The procedure will take 3-4 hours; I reckon time, check my chronometer, my knowledgeable Apple that will keep pace,     consider physics:     scalar quantity     but no direction.

Before clocks     and Apple watches     there were always shadows cast by gnomons     dark spaces like this space my heart habits in the surgical waiting room.     In 11 B.C., the shadow cast by a sundial was noted in Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art.”  “Art” is embedded in “heart     and time is a dark shadow of waiting     a feeling of dread.

I want to turn back time some 40 years.     I want to be in New Orleans     ride the streetcar named Desire    on my way to hear     (and hear, too, is embedded in “heart”).    We are in the French Quarter in New Orleans.    I feed him oysters     drink a Pimms Cup or two   and listen to Lizzie Miles of Faubourd Marrigny sing “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.”   And there he is, that good man of mine     there we are    not merely as pieces of existence – but existence as a whole.


— Sue Walker

Sue Walker, M.Ed, MA, and Ph.D., is the publisher / editor of Negative Capability (Mobile, Ala). She was Poet Laureate of Alabama from 2003-2012 and Stokes Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of South Alabama where she retired in July 2015. In 2013, she received the Eugene Garcia Award for outstanding scholarship by the Alabama Council of English and a Mellen Award for outstanding scholarship for her critical work on James Dickey, The Ecopoetics of James Dickey. She has received several Pushcart nominations and numerous creative writing awards for fiction, non-fiction, drama, and poetry. She has published eight books of poetry, numerous critical articles, drama, fiction, and nonfiction. She has spoken and given workshops throughout the U.S.A. and abroad. Sue is the President of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave.
Editor’s Notes: This is a beautiful love poem with an experimental layout that echoes the title, as well as a troubled heartbeat. Two images are superimposed: a multicolored “One Love EKG” and a more clinical EKG softened by a heart (Pinterest).