When I glance up at the malignant spider
against the bone white wall above the couch,
I ought not to startle
like a horse. Look what happens to them.
But I do.
My right foot in its last painless moment
strikes the carpet, a conductor’s baton
slicing the first shrieking note of agony out of the air.
So fitting that this all starts in April—
the month of shoot-outs and bombings
and beginnings like spring.
The foot specialist, Dr. B, has student doctors
read my x-ray and examine
the foot of this unstable woman
exaggerating the discomfort
(I can just imagine them conferring about me,
their impressions formed by him)
of plantar fasciitis,
the most common cause of heel pain.
But it’s not my heel.
Exercise it five times a day, you lazy cow.
Dr. B never touches my foot.
The year my foot changes my life
is visited by three seasons
in fourteen months.
A year sounds tidier, kinder,
like it might be over and done with.
The first season is called Inferno; it’s known as
what the hell happened?
In three months
I receive another appointment with Dr. B.
His PA meets me in my wheelchair.
I’m carrying a symphony in my body,
I tell her. She looks away.
Woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings
all play their own melodies, each message
more terrifying than the others.
Marshal, a strong man, begs her to ask the doctor
to see my wife for just one minute.
She leaves and comes back to say he will not.
In the fifth month
I go to the emergency room
of a hospital used to unusual cases.
I learn that the foot is a fan
and must be unfurled for an x-ray.
The intern, so young, holds the small bones spread
with his unshielded hands
and there it is: the tumor which has partaken of
the meat and lives now in the eggshell of the central bone.
We can find no report in any medical journal of a tumor in this particular bone.
The biopsy handled by a different young doctor
goes bad, the needle inserted in the wrong part of the foot, and the nurse
weeps when she tells my husband how I clung
to her, how we were suctioned by each other’s sweat,
with pain shattering glass planets.
We have a recommendation for a surgeon,
and he is far away from us.
How do they stay in business
if they don’t want customers?
They dismiss me into my wheelchair
and we drive from Minnesota to Santa Monica.
Out of seventeen restrooms, only one has handicap access.
My foot is booted in steel and leather for protection,
secured in the footrest of the wheelchair
and between cushions in the car.
The last mist of summer settles over Santa Monica
at the end of the continent.
Over the gray beach, the gray water,
the empty pier.
My surgeon, I like calling Dr. Eckhart that.
My surgeon sculpts in expensive materials,
ceramics, polymers, cadaver fibula,
but the one he prizes is my own iliac crest,
although the pain might be worse than the main surgery site.
Season two, Purgatorio,
is the long sleep
of the anesthesia, the pain meds, the foot resting in one
cast after another,
and me tethered to the hospital bed in my living room
like a scraggly debarked dog
who has given up and falls asleep at the end of the chain.
I wonder how many people have died
in this bed, I say,
and Marshal turns away.
Three—no, four--months of sleep
broken only by meds, light meals, bathroom statistics,
and daily physical therapy visits spent
sitting on the edge of the bed with turquoise light weights
until Anne-Marie the over-qualified PT
is the only person in the magic circle around me.
I don’t feel the site of the harvesting
through the cacophony of the foot.
Every month we drive to Santa Monica,
my legs out and propped amidst a flurry
of pillows where Dr. Eckhart examines
x-rays and CT scans of my foot and lungs,
hugs my arch with both his big hands.
He sends me to an orthotics builder, a pulmonologist,
a pain management clinic.
He jokes with me, but not too much.
I say, How long do I need to keep coming here?
For the rest of your life.
Paradiso is not the third season.
Or maybe I’m just ungrateful.
Maybe heaven is all relative, like the Yiddish folktale
where the rabbi has the man load up his house
with animals who sound like bad relatives
only to turn them outside so his cottage
feels spacious and comfortable.
I am out of the hospital bed and send it back
to the medical supply house for someone else.
Marshal takes the wheelchair
in case the tumor comes back.
I walk carefully in built-up New Balance shoes the way Anne-Marie
shows me, heels first, rolling through the foot.
I try to follow my feet: the left goes in front
and then the right.
I am not allowed to run,
even to catch the bus or escape a ferocious dog,
or dance to “Doctor Beat” in a spandex unitard.
When can I run, I ask.
Dr. Eckhart says, Never.
I can’t blame him.
He’s an artist.
I am the museum of his masterpiece.
Now, mated to its New Balance,
my foot lets me walk as I need.
Only occasionally does the oboe inside
sound the concert A note,
prompt a tuning against my will.
I continue to visit Santa Monica every season.
Occasionally there is no mist,
and the beach glints under the sun rays.
Luanne Castle received an MFA from Western Michigan University and a PhD from the University of California, Riverside. She taught at California State University, San Bernardino before moving to Arizona, where she now lives with a herd of javelina. Her poems have been published in Redheaded Stepchild, Visions, Front Range, The Black Boot, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and others.