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We sit across from each other
in that circle of leather
recliners, drinking liquid gold
vitamins into our forearms,
eager to suck life back
into our bodies.

She was my student and I
her school counselor
five years ago when we spoke of
dreams and class schedules in that
tiny office with a window
in the door.
She was the one who offered to deliver
cookies when I left for those
uncertain weeks of rest,
or was it when I left
for good, feeling the cold, grey
surface of a life
at rock bottom?

I’ve seen her since,
stocking dresses and jeans
at a local boutique, but I could
duck around racks
to avoid her view.
Now, she is my direct gaze,
and I hers.

It’s her first day here, to my seasoned
six months. Her face is written with
pain and uncertainty as the doctor brings
more pills. She is buried
under an electric pad on her lap.
“It feels funny,” she says.
“I just want it to be done,”
she tells her mom, once, twice.
My heart bleeds for her.

I offer her phrases, trite as they feel
passing through my lips:
“I know what you mean …
like that for me too …
you’ll understand the pills …
write it down for you …
you’ll know what to do …
give it time ...”

Somewhere in our conversation, her eyes
soften, look less afraid. Her mouth
curls up at its corners.

And I’m sitting in my office once more:
My words the only medicine
I have to give.

About the Author

Rachel Kramer Hibma writes poems and essays inspired by her experiences with chronic illness and small-town life. A former English teacher and school counselor, she now does freelance writing and editing. Her poetry has appeared in Lyrical Iowa and Tiny Seed, and she is a member of the Iowa Poetry Association. Rachel and her husband, Dane, attend Covenant Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center, Iowa.