By Anita Tanner
“That which had struck into me my first
profound terror, when as a child I lay ill
with fever: the Big Thing.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
Here the kinship of pain, here the account
of your own childhood illnesses,
the beast that grows in you
with every elevated fever,
swelling in your brain,
billowing, enlarging, becoming
so imminent it swallows you
in unholy dread, threatening sleep
and sanity with cancerous growth–
a hard, dark stone rolling
and filling the world.
This Big Thing neither word
nor imagination can describe,
nor parent have a clue
to what references you allude.
They can only attempt to soothe—
aspirin, maybe a cold washcloth,
out of your head with fever,
tomorrow you’ll feel better.
But it’s accumulative,
one episode building on the last,
fear enlarging with each bout
until finally, decades beyond childhood,
your feet propped after elongated hours,
you open a poet’s hundred-year-old notebook,
himself in exile, and his confessions
begin to fibrillate
your own prodigal heart.