All We Don’t Know


Hybrid Poetry by H. K. Hummel


“Red Chair” © K. Carlton Johnson; used by permission


My mother looks god-awful. The night nurses have shaky hands. My father tears six pages off a wall calendar and points: It’s Thursday now. My husband said good-bye. I can’t remember our telephone number. When I close my eyes, I see neon. I’m told the baby is stoic. I have pneumonia, radioactive breast milk. This might be a heart attack. My hands are unrecognizable. Someone washed my hair, painted my toenails. The respiratory therapist yells, try harder. When he returns at 2 a.m., he kneels and draws blood so, so gently, I name him the Zen master of needles. I’ve been dreaming about juggling too many things, dreaming I’ve been stuck in a dark airport terminal. Nighttime quiet of the ICU: the loneliest thing I know.


We need what we need. A birth, a hemorrhage, a hysterectomy, multiple blood transfusions, six days on life support. An ER doctor, three obstetricians, a hematologist, pulmonologist, cardiologist, infectious disease specialist, nuclear medicine specialist, anesthesiologist, priest. Teams of nurses, respiratory therapists, a speech pathologist, physical therapist, lactation specialist, family counselor. An ultrasound, cystoscopy, ten chest X-rays, pulmonary V/Q scan, pathology report. Blood products, morphine, radioactive technetium macroaggregated albumin, technetium DTPA. Feeding-tube nutritional supplements, metoclopramide, antibiotics, Diflucan, Tylenol, iron supplements. Sum total: $131,004.62.


If the orchestra hall is demolished. If the subtle twinges of a violin sonata and the after-hum are lost. If the tiny filaments of stereovilli stopped fluttering in the labyrinthine inner ear. If we don’t think of it as mythical. Instead: nuanced. A ripple effect of muscle and nerve. If we don’t dismiss a woman as neurotic. Hostile. Frigid. Disinterested. If phantom pain exists, real as sutures, as scar tissue. If we say amputation.


Art Information

  • “Red Chair” © K. Carlton Johnson; used by permission. 

H. K. HummelH.K. Hummel is an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. She has published two chapbooks, Boytreebird (2013) and Handmade Boats (2010), as well as poems in a variety of literary journals and anthologies.




Add new comment