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October 2013, vol 8, no 3

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Autumn Noelle Hall

Crown of Thorns

My mother is back on the Bone Marrow Unit. This time, the CMV, which she somehow acquired in the transplant, is attacking her pancreas. Her electrolytes are all over the charts, and every 15 minutes or so, a nurse comes in with something new for her to swallow: sodium bicarbonate tablets, a glass of orange juice, calcium supplements.

Graft-versus Host
her male donor's marrow
mounting it's defense...
She jokes, "I'll never compete
in the Olympics now!"

There are three of us in the room, my mother, death and I. We have been inseparable companions for almost six years. But two of us pretend away the third—she out of fear, me out of compassion. Instead, we talk about the orchids and cacti blooming in her kitchen window.

"Your flowers look amazing, Mom! I can't believe how many more plants you have now than when the Quad City Times ran that full-page article about you!"

fading newspaper
Mom with her dendrobiums
awaiting a donor...
her green-thumb gift of life
for everything but herself

I will see her once more, but not without the ventilator, the dialysis machine, and the slow drip of morphine. These are the last words she will speak to me in person:

"Don't forget—take those cuttings from my Crown of Thorns; I potted four of them for you—promise you'll remember!"

driving from Iowa
where all is Grant Wood green
to Colorado's
high plains desert, six-inch shoots
taking root, in my lap

mountain sunshine
coaxing blooms through clouds of grief...
even from flowers
flower tiny conjoined hearts
laced with crimson veins

For eleven years, a continuous display, not a single day without at least a dozen rose-colored reminders of her forgiveness: for my mismatched marrow, for my incompatible kidneys, for my never not knowing she would die.

these thorny stems
almost as tall as I and
wreathed in green leaves...
I weave Tibetan prayer flags
between raised branches

I do not kneel
as her Christ did, his forehead
pierced and weeping...
my prayer pours out in water,
my faith unfolds in flowers

This is what I'm thinking of when the Waldo Canyon fire crowns the ridge: My mother's cactus, keeping its constant vigil in the Eastern bedroom window that faces her faraway grave. Should the flames cross the highway, blaze that last mile down Ute Pass trail, I can not save it, any more than I could her.

trial by fire—
what matters most becoming
when viewed through
smoke and flame

three days rain—
each drop, Holy water
blessing scorched earth...
like incense, smoke-scent lingers
the evacuation lifts

After two weeks, I return. The winding canyon pass is streaked with swaths of charcoal; black rivulets bleed down its granite ravines. Extinguished spot fires line the Ute Pass trail like Stations of the Cross. But at my cabin, all is eerily in order— everything I was prepared to lose right there where I left it. Diving between raindrops, a broadtail hummingbird drinks in a garden cacophonous with color, despite my long neglect. Inside, the one lamp I'd left burning is still lit.

turned toward the light
slatting between closed blinds,
a bract of orchids
its trinity of white blooms
opening, like wings

*CMV—Cytomegalovirus, a strain of the herpesvirus which infects 50-80% of adults in the United States. CMV often remains dormant in healthy human beings for years without outbreak, but can activate and become lethal in immunocompromised individuals such as organ transplant recipients.