By Tamara Kaye Sellman
One. Two. Three. Four. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
You walk the back road, the trail, the high school track,
take the stairs two by two, arms attuned to hips in motion,
warm, loose and fluid, controlled. Fingers tingle, balance
veers always to the left, your ears filled with tinnitus opera.
The crown of your head tilts, spilling the leftover fairy dust
of chi from the nape of your neck. Always, there is extra,
the spoils of energy gained, then lost in the act of living.
The commercial shows a woman who is you, but you are
not an actor. She moves through the acts of her life:
in Spring, striding as a speedwalker; in summer, diving
into the blue of a pool, crawling stroke over stroke to
the other side; then, in the autumn, riding a Ferris wheel
at the county fair. A man in the hovering bench next to her
brandishes the turquoise capsule: Elixir of Tecfidera,
a diamond ring for her to swallow at the top of the carnival.
Each dose more than a hundred dollars. Twice a day, every
day. The promise to stay the march of T cells consuming
the memory of muscle, the glimmer of crystalline thought,
the music of speech, all that is you, without discrimination.
You gird yourself with fried eggs, tuna fish in oil, bananas
and peanut butter at every meal to coat your gut so you can
swallow chemotherapy whole, survive its secondary insults
in order to take your walk, climb your stairs, live your life.
Today it is stadium steps, cold gray concrete. Two by two,
breathe in, breathe out. Your body, a metronome tuning
its efforts to thwart the random violence of astrocytes
turned against you, chiseling, faceting, cauterizing both
the white matter and the gray. Moving the body mobilizes
blood factors, strengthens the myelin sleeves of neurons,
feeds oxygen to the factories of the mitochondria, makes
efficiency of glucose so your brain doesn't trip its circuits.
The chipped amber paint on the edge of each step evokes
that first week of track season every year in high school.
Shin splints and Icy Hot. Paced breathing to fuel muscles.
This was decades ago, but just last night you dreamed of
running. The air inside your lungs didn't burn. Your muscles
like soft pulled taffy, your gait a weightless dance of
forward motion. Today, you try to run. Footfalls wobble,
threaten to shatter in seconds your contractured ankles.
The promise of a pill. Many tolerate it less than the daily
bee stings administered at one of seven injection sites,
tattoos using needles dripping the ink of recombinant DNA.
You covet your capsule, your personal Hope Diamond.
Three years now, you've since become the pill popper
the small-town grocery clerk disparaged while ringing up
your soy milk. Her cure for everything is your poison, says
your apologetic naturopath. Breathe in, breathe out.