585: Complex Nonlinear Systems

585: Complex Nonlinear Systems

585: Complex Nonlinear Systems


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

One of the things that always impresses me is how many people are privately going through something. Have you ever sat around the table with a group of women and started talking about your health? Just a casual mention of a mammogram or a check-up, and suddenly everyone is laughing at some bizarre appointment experience or someone is sharing a scary story about an ongoing health condition that you hadn’t even realized? I’m always surprised that we don’t talk about it all the time.

When I was going through fertility issues, friends and even strangers would start to share their stories with me and it felt like a secret everyone had been keeping until then. Whispering in the corner of a party, stopping me on a street corner. But the sharing feels important. I remember laughing with some friends over some fairly intense health appointments because what else are you doing to do? Give up? Stop going to the doctor? So instead we do what we do best: we deal with it, laugh when we can, cry when we must.

Some days in the body of a woman, everything is personal and secret. And some days you have to share it and make a joke because life is made up of all these tiny bizarre moments. And if we don’t acknowledge them, aren’t we leaving out some huge chunk of our lives?

I love today’s poem because it so delicately describes what it’s like to be in a body that’s holding every possibility at once.

Complex Nonlinear Systems
by Chelsea Dingman

I walk through white hallways, all
leading to rooms where people are told
they will live or die. The cysts in my breasts
may or may not kill me, but I will learn them
on the same screen that holds my daughter
in the uterine sac, her profile
hawkish. All things are imaginary
until we can touch them. I am touched
outside and in. The technician
runs a wand over my belly, my breasts.
If not for the fetus that I mistaked
for early menopause in my early forties,
I wouldn’t have discovered the potential
for threats that live just under the surface
of my skin at all times, lurking
as though a thousand clocks. Some women
say fertility ticks inside the body,
but I’ve felt the end of time rise
since I was a child and all was dark. Everywhere
that the wand travels my body, pain
follows. I swallow the urge to cry out.
I will wallow only when there is reason. In this room, 
the walls are dotted with butterflies. Real
butterflies have a life span of one week.
My daughter is trapped in the chrysalis
transecting yesterday and tomorrow. I need her
to live longer than a week. How I will survive
after she leaves me, I don’t know. Barren,
perhaps. Stripped down to the teeth.

"Complex Nonlinear Systems" by Chelsea Dingman. Used by permission of the poet.