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Flares, Birthday & They're Poisoning Me & Diagnosis, After Diagnosis

by Jeannine Gailey



Part I


Solar flares eject plasma beyond the sun’s corona

radiation emitted by solar flares may disrupt radar, radio


its mechanisms not well understood


My first flare came on the week of the solar eclipse

when the shadow fell cold over us, and the birds stopped singing


I wasn’t ready to loosen my grip, to lose my footing 

I wasn’t ready to lose to multiple sclerosis 


its mechanisms poorly understood


Rosa “sun flare” produces yellow blooms in my garden

not quite as disruptive


In 2012 a massive solar storm barely missed earth

We are waiting for the next. We cannot predict


but its mechanisms are not well understood


A girl, bright blonde, stands with the sun behind her

- tendrils escape the corona of her hair


My flare lit up the MRI, white coronas around black holes

I fell down a lot. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t remember names.


There is a web site, It records 

flare sprays, lists solar storms, makes predictions but


The light made me dizzy. The air was filled with smoke. 

I felt at any time I could fall off the edge of the earth. Tilting. 


My mechanisms are not well understood


Someday our sun may flame out in a superflare

like other stars around the universe


like me, waiting for the light-up of neural networks,

waiting for it to burn me up, a flicker of brightness in the dark



Part II. 


I was in a flare that means my brain inflamed my myelin sheath attacked and thinned around my brain I was dizzy I threw up I couldn’t walk I couldn’t talk and all I remember was the corona around the sun during the eclipse. Remember the shadows it threw on the ground, eerie and death-like. I know not to look straight at the sun but these holes in my brain burn like the delicate retina the solar rays the corona the plasma that could not be contained my flare could not be contained my hair flared out in the sun like a halo but I was not an angel I had fallen I had fallen in the shadow of the brilliant flare I could not write my own name I could not remember what you told me but I remembered incandescence




I’m writing a poem

as the pink moon rises early

above soggy cherry blossoms, nearly blown.

I won’t ask for a present. After all,


last birthday they told me I was dying

of cancer. I believed them and yet 

I kept planting things. I got a kitten, 

signed a mortgage, learned a few

words of a new language. 


Because for me,

the only way to keep going 

is to keep writing the story

as if it were going forward

on the knife-edge of the future

uncertain, shimmering in the distance…


Now the same doctors tell me

there are lesions in my brain, 

darkness eating away at my connections,

my neural net growing holes. 

It is slowing me down

but I have not stopped yet.


I can no longer see the moon, the clouds

a veil, but I trust it will remain, 

that ghost remote and clean, as quiet 

as my own heart as it 

remains, remains, remains.



They’re Poisoning Me


You hear an old woman shriek from next door

in the hospital hallway. And maybe it’s the Ativan

to calm the nerves in your veins, but she’s right – 

it began as soon as we were born, the drugs

they gave your mother, before that, 

the bombs they set off in the desert with dust

that floated fallout to the Midwest, to be picked up

in the bones, in the teeth of children. 

The clouds of DDT dropped from planes

over our farms. We dream of mushroom clouds, 

of Alice’s toxic mushrooms that helped us hallucinate. 

What’s that beyond the looking glass?

Have you even looked at the ingredients?

Even now in the soil, the water, the air,

there is arsenic in the apples, in the rice,

there are blades of grass carrying cesium,

mercury in the fish. Contaminated sea water 

from Fukushima. Where are the whales, their singing? 

I think I can hear them now, out my window,

or maybe it is the old woman keening,

waiting for someone to bring her something,

some unknown savior, some bliss of blackout. 



Dialogue, After Diagnosis


He said, I’ll get some extension cord. 

She said, I’m so tired 


of having the same conversation.


He said, Pancakes for breakfast?


He said, You’ve come unstuck in time.


She said, I have to remember to take all the anti-nausea and vertigo meds before we go out.


He said, It’s pitch dark outside.


She said, I live in the white spaces in between. 


She said, I can still see the wings of the hummingbird, the stellar jay.


He said, What should I pick up? Should we make a salad?


She said, Endive asparagus carrot fennel. 


She said, I’m afraid I’ll never feel like myself again. 

My hands feel like claws. 

You know the kitten left actual teeth marks on my arm?


He said, We never know what is coming.


She said, Despite everything, around me, 

the entire world is in flight.

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She's the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA's Elgin Award. Her work appeared in journals such as American Poetry Review and is forthcoming in Ploughshares and Poetry. Her web site is Twitter and Instagram: @webbish6.

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