On Being Alive at 47 To the Day

birthday at 47 poem amy king



I know it’s an anomalous title

but I’m talking about it anyway

on my 47th birthday I think

because I’m thrown by the “7” as symbolic of heaven

while also being a not-quite-but-almost

50 year signifier.


I like to say the years are survivor points, talismans,

as if I’ve mastered a videogame I try to play

well each day, but the truth is I feel a desperation

sometimes to keep going and then at others

a calm washes over like this is great and I could go any minute

if necessary.


And then the in-between strikes that gets me

on the outside looking in like

is this really alive / what is a person / am I adult enough /

how have I lasted so long with so little

glue holding segmented limbs and chapters in sync.


Which leads me to what others say about me.


I was first diagnosed with WPW syndrome

in my 20s by a dude whose name I forget

and nothing to do about it. So my heart was first described

in terms I had no response to but to go on

living and listening to fast flutters as words and worlds unfolded.


In my 30s Dr. Ibrahim, head of electrophysiology

declared neurocardiogenic syncope.

I refused the medication. Dr. Hazan followed up

that I should eat as much salt as I wanted,

which was redundant as my blood is the saltiest of anyone ever.


The later Brugada syndrome call brought me

to straight to denial

of genetic testing, an affirmative NO,

with the suggestion that arrhythmias could drop me dead

one day, but I firmly remain pacemaker-less.


Down the road, Dr. Hill at St. Francis on Long Island

said until I start fainting again,

he will leave the unknown

in my heart alone. And then I understood.


A stranger has come to visit

my heart’s inner rooms long-term,

now and then kicking the furniture around.


My heart has been a series of refusals

and acceptances with the occasional

narcissistic party scene.


And I’m along for the ride, listening to Ryan Adams too loud,

missing the south but driving through the years,

visiting lovers and friends below the Mason-Dixon line.


But first some irrelevancies: My house is now on Rose Mtn

and I pass Slide Mountain Motel

after the residents of the Catskills

have long been tucked into darkness

with a light that claims “Open” and the yellow lamp

at the entrance telling me to come in.


There is a sadness so deep in this scene it circles

all the way back to gladness

for my stupid little life, driving through wilderness,

watching for animals

the poet in me lathers

in the literal as it stands as metaphor

for the strangeness of being.


Then back to it: I labor under capitalism and femalehood

and my heart’s stranger gets up, glowers at the ruck up,

adrenaline aloud, speeding up again as a reminder.


They say the cliché that every beat is a promise

but in the case of my own I believe in

every missed beat,

arrhythmia and blackout when the dissonance

brings me back to the surface again.


Caveat: This is not a catalogue

but a shortlist of greatest hits the stranger within

has sent up from her aorta today.

What do I put on my med alert bracelet now?

Nothing. I pawn it.


Birthday at 47.


AMY KING View All →

Amy King is the recipient of the 2015 Winner of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA) Award. Her latest collection, The Missing Museum, is a winner of the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize. She co-edited with Heidi Lynn Staples the anthology Big Energy Poets of the Anthropocene: When Ecopoets Think Climate Change. She also co-edits the anthology series, Bettering American Poetry, and is a professor of creative writing at SUNY Nassau Community College.

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