Notes After a Stroke

1.

I suppose once
I had a father and a brunette mother
a partially South American family

sitting at another table
the realization
that somehow

I would never be quite
the same
there’s a chair in one corner

and if I don’t look around the room
flecks of dust move across my line of sight
for 10 days I took a different name

we all wore short sleeve shirts
during those teenage years
but tonight

I am without a body
without arms to show off
the incessant beeping

a man appeared in the doorway
and he grew to be my brother
Jack

I taught him to sew through black vinyl
what is my fate?
and it’s true I heard grown men calling

for their mothers
a lurid lullaby
a train derailed

somewhere in the dark
I’m not this room
where people lie awake breathing

I wasn’t wheeled in here last night
but my Ohio years
my roaming years all

brought me home to the globe
in my father’s head
this room is in me now

all emptied out
officers in plain clothes
enjoying a dinner together

complete with root beer and cake
and I’ve carved out a small hole in the light
among skeletons

the women entering and exiting
with their sorbet hair
and children festooned to their backs

the children I would never have
what is my fate?
the twisted bodies

the ICU is—
full of breath
like wind that makes discarded newspaper

dance
my aunt arrived
she was standing in the doorway

while our country was being torn apart
am I so sick as to warrant prayer?
I remembered the boys I grew up with

the ones with the guitars around their necks
in my memory mist they become horseflies
they bite and suck bits of blood

until ultimately
they are swatted down
and crushed under an open palm

my father was up all night playing chess
with no one
the room so full of flowers

visitors could no longer sit
nurses called their friends
I was able to see New York again

through glass
while my family took turns
sitting alone in the Jeep

the body suspended
burning up good green money
but months later

after suffering the loss
of someone like you—
I realized no one really

expected anything of the body
my brother watched Catholics
enter and exit a church that night

no one asked why he was there
or where he came from
a man illuminated in the doorway light

but let me tell you
it’s night where I am
I could see my name

up on the marquee
until a taxi arrived and took me away
and I called my mother

by the time I woke up
a cold wind
needle marks and machines

2.

The oblong body
with jewelry on its chest
while worrying the signs

the ward is lifeless tonight
like dead letters gathering
dust and mold

pulling apart
the contraptions
the tethers

three or four silent women
I saw my grandfather
at the diner on the corner

as he read a newspaper
dated 1969
I was in a hospital gown

he was still young and in a three-piece suit
I left too much behind to reclaim he said
figures moving across the room in white

the items left behind
you’re not going to die tonight he said
folding the newspaper

sit with me a while
I rested my hands in cold water
in the dark

I felt someone drowning
or crossing 7th Avenue
the nurse left her handprint in my arm

she yanked my gown down below my breasts
and never returned
the backlogged children

I saw my brain for the first time
on machines
think of the battered and bruised visage

of the two thousand twenties
the very foundations
the topsoil lost to the wind

the murdered fathers
the carved flesh
dangling from metal hooks

conversations in the room
like I was never there
the oblong body

six-point star on its chest
knives in its arms
the marathon runners frighten me the most

with their unshakable confidence
that their bodies won’t betray
patches of music

in passing cars
and outside there will be
people running in shorts

crumbling brick and battered cement
and friends who have traveled from far away
for dinner

the radio said
if you’re listening now
you still aren’t home

sometimes I get so blinded
by the harsh conditions
the arms and legs filled with rock

my brother’s voice on the phone
twenty-six years of snow
in one backyard

and the gunshot fates
of the kids I grew up with
Laura’s hands mourning my brain

in a way it’s incomprehensible
how much space the body occupies
and all the buildings erected to house it

and I am wailing into machines
because there were still restaurants I wanted to try
I heard a fire truck roar around the corner

when I said you could build
an entire country
on the back of a cigarette

my father agreed
men walked into the room
in clothes more fitting for fighting fires

with my tangled fingers
and staccato breaths
there wasn’t any siren

somewhere down the hall
a radio still playing
enduring the isolation of

what’s the name of that song?
to an empty room
I hit my head on the bathroom wall

and pissed myself that night
and Laura held my body until the
metal doors closed

navigating these prisms
stepping down hallways
on these ghost ships

3.

My family left me
for the night
before a ball of flame

tore down the door
god knows where
and what kind of damage

months later I’d see you dead—
my grandmother used to
de-thaw pieces of frozen bologna

she held her arm outstretched
as the car sped
crossing the highways and thoroughfares

I tried to explain how this memory
of meaningless joy
could possibly make up for the

devastation to come
like an opera singer
with vocal chords

recently ripped and removed
I tried to explain many things
the loss of someone close to me

like you
like my body
the amount of vacant space left

in your absence and
the amount of space mine took up
the muscles worn down

giving way to flapping skin
but losing you—
has made the travesty of

the two thousand twenties
seem insignificant
from the day my left hand froze and swelled

to last night when I threw a green glass bottle
just to watch it shatter
did the nurse say

she was going to make a torture
chamber out of me?
my hands grasp-less

and I wept on the floor
yelled for my mother while
sitting in a puddle of my own piss

that night I would
I watch Laura grow smaller and smaller
as I sped

through lights and metal doors
and I thought about when I first saw Laura
6 years earlier

thin, blonde, in baggy jeans
I never wanted anything more
at 3 AM

I was dying
I sat up like Christina in
Andrew Wyeth’s world

for 27 hours I blended into the noise
joining the chorus
the grown men on the ward

howled for
their mothers
a resident asked me if

I wanted to be saved
should my heart stop
I blew spit bubbles to pass the time

by Tuesday
semi-reclining on the bed in a treeless world
a mostly tawny colored room

I looked up at the searing
fluorescents dotting
my line of sight

that night I
met my grandfather again
the one who survived the Holocaust

through a Kepra, Adivan and Morphine tether
connected by
a death unplanned

I’d go on to dream I had a baby but
I left her in a cinder block room
with no doors or windows

on death row
I could walk through concrete walls
when I woke up I was freezing cold

the air in the room like
somebody had told a joke
and everyone just finished

laughing
but no one knew what to say next
my mouth became numb

a pack of doctors and nurses
rushed me to an MRV
people in the hallway starred

don’t you know who I once was?
I touched my mouth
hoping touch could provide—

a group of men lifted me
into a machine
and inexplicably

I started laughing about
the time you took us out
on a homemade sailboat

and Jack got hit in the head with the boom—
saving my body
the new family business

the drugs made me
imagine I was on the Subway
I wound up in front of

my father’s childhood home
where a man was striking match
after match

and letting them burn up
on the sidewalk
a young woman seen from behind

a nurse threw my phone away
and refused to retrieve it
she rolled my body onto its side

forcing me against the guardrail
you’re hurting me
I whispered

but it wasn’t me anymore
on the bedpan
before a ball of fire

destroys everything in sight—
a young woman
wearing a white dress and

lying in a blanketed paddock
the nurse leaves bruises on her arms
resents the body

in a position of repose
the torso
propped up on the arms

all the blood spilling from
the vagina
the shit

the piss
but they are just reminders
that there’s still a pulse

Jesse Arnholz is a queer, disabled American writer, comedian, and artist from Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been featured in the Washington Blade, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Windy City Times.

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