"For the Wordless Body," A Poem About Diabetes Written Shortly After Diagnosis

As readers of this blog know, diabetes has been a great teacher for me. Here's a poem I wrote a couple of years after being diagnosed (with type 1). It's published in my book from Wesleyan University Press called The Transparent Body.
cover of The Transparent Body by Lisa Bernstein (Lisa B) published by Wesleyan University Press

(You can order the book from my website: http://www.lisabmusic.com/cds_books.html, or from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/The-Transparent-Body-Wesleyan-Poets/dp/0819521620. If you buy from Amazon, please buy a new copy directly from them rather than another seller, otherwise I won't see any of the proceeds.)

The feeling of first grappling with being officially diabetic rushes back to me when I read this almost three decades after writing it. And much of it remains relevant to my relationship with this constant companion, who brought me into closer communication with my body and helped me know myself better as a spirit.

For the Wordless Body

the muscle constricts with thirst.
The scent of citrus in the urine,
sugar leaking
into a film across the eyes.
Morning fills the windowpane,
a lit rectangle to be hungry in. I hurry
past buildings, counting out streets,
a self with words
and a hollowing silence of cells.

Language punctures
the skin.
Slimmer than a pen
the syringe shoots the insulin.
The sweetness of tangerines
lingers in the bloodstream. The injection
combusts it into strength and heat.

Body, christened again
you burn too well, flushed
as an infant and shaking for food.
A frantic mother, I bend to you.
At night I fake the bravado
of a teenage boy pinching
a girl's bare leg,
the needle poised above my thigh.
For years you absorbed what I fed you,
then denied.
Now you try to refuse
the sweet essence that keeps us alive.

So I am vigilant
for the sake of eyesight and limbs,
grateful to have seen this particular death
and to walk away. I forgive us
this defect, the first defection
to the dissolving silence
trailing me like a cloak.
It falls from my shoulders
when my arms rise, awkward
and bare, a child's A
against the light.

copyright 1989 Lisa Bernstein