the healing muse

Volume 8, 2008

Diagnosis 1972

Lisa Roney

It was the worst kind of fiction, but I was at the age and of an ilk
that meant I thought everything in a book must be true. I absorbed it,
like milk, I am afraid, into the very structure of my cells:
my unsuitability for love. No wonder I believe in the power
of words. There seems to be no other explanation,
though I have been looking for years for something else I could fix.

I was eleven, and the doctor deemed it the Bible by which
I should live: Diabetes for Diabetics, third edition, 1971—
photos of a woman’s thigh edged in a black-and-white skirt,
her fingernails delicately arranged around the syringe
that, step by step, she plunged into her bulging, grasped
flesh. This is how you do it: form without face.

Page upon page depicted food shriveled against a blue background:
a plate of asparagus spears that look like severed fingers,
five french fries (all you get now that you will tend toward fat),
a lonesome hot dog without a bun. Disgusting.
The banana is halved and turning brown. Get used to it.

In my memory, the pictures of urine testing pulse in color—
when the tablet turns orange at the drop of pee,
then you are in trouble. Even if you know ahead of time the result,
you must still do it four times a day and wash out the test tube
in the sink, just like this
. Even then I thought it odd that someone
included an illustration of how to wash something in hot water.

Pink diagrams of a man’s body sported a matrix
of white squares showing me precisely where to aim
the needles. Next page, four photos of a headless man
in tight swim trunks invited me to cover him with tracing paper
and mark each site with each date of my injections. I stared
at his veiled crotch instead, but always took my shots,
knowing that poorly controlled diabetics should be automatically
refused employment.
Already, I knew work would be my only option

because, tucked discreetly in the back under “Special Problems,”
five paragraphs contemplated doubts about a diabetic girl marrying
since you will be a financial burden and may not be able to fulfill
your wifely duty of bearing children
. At twenty-one,
I sliced words from these pages for a collage, but that did not
remove them from my body, which has taken decades to unlearn them.

Questions about this poem can be found on our Reader's Guide Volume 8

Return to Table of Contents, Volume 8, 2008.

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