You are reading an archived issue of Sleet Magazine. To return to the current issue, click here.

Volume 14 • Number 1 • Spring-Summer 2022

Nancy Botkin

The Fever

August is raging,

The fires in the west cannot be contained.

We swiped the newfangled
    thermometer across our
grandson’s forehead.

It read 102 degrees at one AM.

Up again at four, he seemed surprised
    by the darkness. Unfazed by the fever,
he wanted to go look at the moon.

My husband took him downstairs
    to the front window,
but they couldn’t find it.

Gone, that innocent moon,

that crackling white-hot
        face that waxes and wanes.

Underneath the unseen moon is the all-night
where I’m half-awake, half-floating

on some make-shift raft or diving toward earth like
    the tip of a firework.

We all landed back in bed, heads on pillows,
    and soon blue morning struck its match.

The birds started obeying
        an ancient command: chirp feverishly.

Time Sensitive

Here it is: the heart weighs, roughly, eleven ounces.
    Which is why on a calm summer night,
alone with the stars, you can’t hear it beat, even
    when you tip your chin toward your chest,
just as the earth tilts when making a slight
    adjustment at the solstice. You’re more likely
to feel a pulsing in your ears. When people have
    told me that their lives were imploding,
their stories have to do with the heart—the failed
    marriage, the foreclosure, the forensic
evidence—their faces closing down like dying
    flowers. I kick the dust off my shoes
here in Indiana, what we call the heartland, one
    of the center states that seems essential
to the country’s survival. There’s something sturdy
    in our pipes and valves that’s critical
to the health of Selma and Sacramento. Yet,
    if you say you’re from Indiana they wonder
what you’re doing living among the cows
    and the endless ribbons of road. I read
that a plane had to turn around and go back
    to the airport to retrieve a human heart,
precious cargo that didn’t transfer, the recipient
    waiting in another state. Now we're
getting to the heart of the matter, we say in anger,
    when the cold nugget of truth is sitting
there exposed, and today it was the hospital
    personnel in their white jackets,
shifting their feet, blood rushing in their ears,
    as the plane glided onto the tarmac.
You can’t undo the problem of the body,
    but you can put a heart in a container,
carry it by its handle, and walk as fast as you can
    to a person whose chest has been cracked
open without skipping a beat. Few will ever hold
    a human heart, but no one can look
at the cosmos without one, or a dilapidated barn
    in a blue-air sunset, or a fallow cornfield
covered with frost. For a minute on that cold
    table, the patient had no heart at all. True
or false? We are heartsick when we are without.

Nancy Botkin’s newest full-length collection of poems, The Next Infinity, was published by Broadstone Books in December 2019. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals such as Poetry East, december, Third Coast, POOL, and Gyroscope. She is a retired college instructor, and she lives in South Bend, Indiana.