I started gargling a child’s paintbrush.
Progressed to a spoon. Then a coat hanger, re-bent
into something like a sword. And now I’m dropping real steel.
All because of that holiday business dinner. Prime rib. Yes, I was eating too quickly.
To get a bite past my gullet. Because I had something crucial to say. I never got to say.
My smart remark expired when a piece of meat the size of an ice cube
sealed off my esophagus. Finally they noticed my new priorities,
the waiter whacking me as I grew gray. Dr. Heimlich’s invented maneuver
was still two years off. But, my god, that emergency tracheotomy
someone tried with a steak knife? Our business dinner
turned crimson circus, my blood—everywhere, but no air.
Christmas Eve was my wake.
So what became of those things for me under the tree, bearing tags such as,
“Dear David, I thought you’d love a cutlass.”
I still brandish my wit, albeit differently.
First: repress the gag reflex.
Which is not unlike getting past Fear itself. I’m to the point
where I can dangle it beyond my Adam’s apple—prominentia laryngea—
and steer it behind the voice box, the larynx, and send it merrily, merrily
through the cricopharyngeal sphincter, and bingo: past the esophagus.
I practice to relax my peristalsis and quell the reflex to retch
so I can slip the tip—unobstructed—into my stomach.
It feels like swallowing a piece of ice,
but I love that it gets there, you know?
“It’s a cruise-past process, Davey-boy,” I say, patting my old self on the back.
Julia Shipley is the author of a poetry collection, The Academy of Hay (Bona Fide Books, 2015), finalist for the Vermont Book Award, and Adam’s Mark: Writing from the Ox-House (Plowboy Press, 2014), named one of The Boston Globe’s Best Books about New England. Her work has also appeared in The Collagist, The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review online, AGNI, and Poetry. She lives in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. (updated 3/2019)