The Maynard
Spring 2016

Michael Russell


             After Brenda Shaughnessy

In the doctor’s office almost everyone is sick.
You pull out a book—Our Andromeda—

you want to get lost in a galaxy
where illness is like pins and needles in your feet, half asleep,

but death and sickness and grief
all live in Andromeda.

Even in that galaxy HIV is a possibility
of your rape. In Andromeda your mother would wait

by your side instead of leaning over a table drinking, drinking. She knows
nothing. In Andromeda she would know everything:

how he lured you in like a fish without a hook,
how he scared you into staying the night,

how he unmade your body (to put it gently).
You would spare her the details, the horror of what plays out like film

in your head. You would tell her why, finally, you ate yourself
into another person. Why your belly, soft and plump as a pig’s,

kept you safe. But this isn’t Andromeda
and the doctor is calling your name.


You sit in front of your doctor, canvas-faced
and ask for an HIV test.

You tell her you practiced unsafe sex—
omit that it was with a man,

omit that he pried you open like a lobster,
omit that no dribbled from your mouth like a leaky faucet.

In Andromeda your doctor would know when you are lying.
She would put one hand above your heart, the other above your brain

and have the information travel from you to her and back.
In Andromeda there are no secrets

between patient and physician.
In fact, the physician is a sort of guardian angel

with her white lab coat and stethoscope.
In Andromeda she wouldn’t just hand you a requisition

and point you to the nurse’s lounge, no,
she would try to ground you—

mould your feet into nails
and plant them into the soft body of the floor.


You wait for the nurse to take your blood.
It is the same here as it is on Earth—

a vampire needle, a rubber tourniquet, test tubes, cotton.
She asks for your arm—wraps the turquoise tourniquet around your bicep

and the vein pops. She takes a cloud of cotton
soaked in alcohol, runs it along the vein.

She can feel your stomach churn and twist and knot
as the needle approaches. She is a fully flowered empath.

All Andromedan nurses are.
This is Andromeda in all its glory—

how the nurse’s vein blooms
when the needle is inserted in yours,

how blood rivers down her arm and into a donation sack
as your blood is caught in test tubes.

You stare at the test tubes, a deep red,
and remind yourself positive or negative

it’s never over—
it’s never over.


No news is good news. It has been four weeks
since your vein spilled into a test tube

and you are back on Earth where you belong.
The nails of your feet split into toes, into roots

and grasp the moist earth. Andromeda was a nightlight
in a dark room, flickering—always flickering.

It was hope, a semicolon pasted on the wall.
Sometimes Andromeda was a small stone—

smooth, hard, tough—held tightly in the palm of your hand.
Whatever it was it was always a distant galaxy

of light, shimmering. Thank the nurse that took your blood,
thank Shaughnessy—send them each a bowl of fruit,

send them a dozen white tulips
and a handful of earth.