The Silent Killer
No, I'm not talking about a smelly fart.
I’m talking about my blood pressure,
veering up into the hypertension range,
the warnings from the nurse
who straitjacketed my arm
with the squeezing vise-like cuff.
“Blood pressure rises with age,”
Carolyn warned, voice portentous
as a trailer for a disaster film.
“If you don’t mind my asking,
how old are you, exactly?”
When I said I’d be sixty-one in a few weeks,
her eyes took on an I-told-you-so sheen.
It felt like a death sentence.
“But I feel fine,” I protested gamely.
“I swim half a mile every day,
don’t eat meat, include lots of fruit
in my diet; I even meditate and –”
“It’s called the silent killer,”
Carolyn cut me off, her voice dramatic,
a stage actress delivering the goods.
“No warning signs, no symptoms.
You don’t even realize you’ve got it,
and then one day, bam. You’re dead.”
“Oh, this doesn’t mean you’re
in any immediate danger!” she hastened to add,
reacting to the stricken look
I know must have warped my face.
Turtled in their overcoats against the cold,
the two women on the bus
traded observations about the flu epidemic.
“I read where twenty kids done died already
and it ain’t even the middle of January.
It come early this year.”
“I got the flu shot once
and I still got sick.
It don’t make no difference
if you get the vaccination or not.
I ain’t getting no shot.”
“Me neither. It don’t make no sense
shooting that virus into your body,
even if they do say it won’t make you sick.”
Their defiance was a shield,
inoculating them against the so-called experts,
the bullies at the National Institutes of Health, the CDC.
I’d had the shot a couple months earlier,
a jab in the shoulder I forgot about
until the flesh-colored oval bandaid
fell off in the shower a week later.
But I’d no longer need to worry
if my mother’d received her shot yet;
even though housebound,
the bugs always found a way into her home.
My mom died three years ago.
The Way Terrorism Works
“Charles, come to my desk right now,”
Sandra shrieked, scurrying into
and out of my cubicle
like a mouse darting into a hole.
I followed her to her computer.
“I just got this e-mail
from somebody I don’t even know.”
On the screen, a scrambled message
like a ransom note, a jumble of letters and punctuation
out of which the random word “Bomb”
stood like a wound in the flesh
of the computer screen’s swarm of alphanumeric characters.
“Don’t open it!” she warned,
voice shrill with near-panic,
even though I stood three feet back,
my hands jammed into my pockets.
“Why don’t you forward it
to the security desk?” I advised,
even as I recognized the spam
for discount Viagra pills.
Ever since 9/11, more than a decade before,
Sandra’d been suspicious
as a drug-sniffing bloodhound.
Anything threatening made her tail wag
faster than a windshield wiper in a downpour.
Fire drills frightened her;
she closed her eyes in silent prayer.