They come forth in pairs, masked, trollying plastic sacs. One reads my name from the wristband, the other rogers. One asks my date of birth, the other nods over the toxins.
Two small sacs, one clear liquid, one brown, have dripped piggyback into my port: I read "Saline," "Benadryl." Soon I will be out, sleepy beyond resistance. But I respond clearly
enough to satisfy them. They hook up, calibrate, dial. I beep. The senior masked one returns, gloved and robed in J-cloth to sit beside me, studying my face, while she pushes
for thirteen careful minutes the Adriamycin into my body. Sterile, murderous. The syringe is enormous, but the needle goes straight through an IV line into my port and I feel nothing
but terror, blanketed by anti-nausea agents. I recall that "syringe" comes from Greek syrinx, shepherd's pipe. She's shepherding me through this invasion. Sinking
inward, I adjust my earbuds to Bach's Partita in D, familiar, precise, soulful--the music gets through, and I am myself, even here in this sterile room of people who get it better than I do: this is serious.
Mary O'Connor, who went through surgery for breast cancer in 2008 and is still in treatment, was born in Ireland, raised there and in England, and now lives in the U.S. Her poems and short stories have appeared in Metre, Jacaranda Review, New Irish Writing, Contemplative Review, America, and other journals. Having retired from college teaching, she now gives poetry retreats. Writing for her is a spiritual practice, a way of attention and presence.