Poem: medical history

Poem: medical history

I’ve always believed that the poet writing in the first person is the best fabulist, that most peculiar of words that means both “composer of fables” and “inventory of elaborate lies.” Nicole Sealey’s “medical history” is one of those poems that turn a list into something more: a moral of the awe and desperation of the world. The North Star and all the rest might be long dead, just as the details of our lives might just be the past — and yet, sometimes the past leads us to freedom, and there is beauty in the remembering and noticing of it all.

medical history

By Nicole Sealey

I’ve been pregnant. I’ve had sex with a man
who’s had sex with men. I can’t sleep.
My mother has, my mother’s mother had,
asthma. My father had a stroke. My father’s
mother has high blood pressure.
Both grandfathers died from diabetes.
I drink. I don’t smoke. Xanax for flying.
Propranolol for anxiety. My eyes are bad.
I’m spooked by the wind. Cousin Lily died
from an aneurysm. Aunt Hilda, a heart attack.
Uncle Ken, wise as he was, was hit
by a car as if to disprove whatever theory
toward which I write. And, I understand,
the stars in the sky are already dead.

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and lawyer. He created Freedom Reads, an initiative to curate microlibraries and install them in prisons across the country. His latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” explores the post-incarceration experience. His 2018 article in The New York Times Magazine about his journey from teenage carjacker to working lawyer won a National Magazine Award. Nicole Sealey is the author of “Ordinary Beast” (Ecco, 2017). She is the winner of the 2019 Rome Prize and in the fall will be a lecturer in the Program in Creative Writing at Princeton University.

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