The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Julie Sheehan

Book of Hours


“Vampirish,” clinicians say, his pallor a gouache,
           white pigment with clay,
and because her habit now is spotting symptoms,
and because her patient four year old can’t count
           his leukocytes yet,
she’ll ready him for better blood, transfuse
her hectic Subaru into NICU,
and add more miles to the busted odometer.

           Money, like language, aloof from its bearer,
           has talents and dowries, uncommon lexicons.
           Language, like money, endows but the few of us,
           vampires who palliate, vampires who frighten.

Gouache lays on the surface of the paper,
           so she laughs
a lively dragonsblood, to illuminate the letter
in the alphabet book she’s handed him
for the long ride back to the ward.

Leukemia, dear marigold. Leukemia, dear cowslip.
           ‘Our Lady’s Mantle,’ ‘Mary’s Tears,’
           Heartsease, Peony.
See the drolleries along the edge?


Leukemia Mom keeps a packed bag on the dresser
where pothos once thrived, a flourished initial
historiated to tell its tale: The junk drawer is inoperable,
           due to overdue
bills bloating it shut. As if ported through the white
ceramic knob circulate the grisaille logos of clinics
and canonical text obscure as Latin. This is NOT

a Bill Amount You Owe. Let them fight amongst themselves,
the older envelopes torn open, the newborns, sealed.

           Money, like chemo, attacks cells to save them.
           Chemo, like money, has rendered him vampirish.
           Vampirish chemo, collectors, and pallor,

           and vampirish father—he left in the lurch,
           yet lingers at borders, a Book of her Hours.
           He’s bound for the portable. He’s made to move.


The father settles in earshot, a visit rare as ultramarine.
He thinks she’s spendthrifting. He says, “Go
to work.” He says, “Why do you need two
pots to piss in, ten gallons of gas, a day off?”
He drives a luxury automobile. He admits
paternity. He won’t sign the paper.
After the vomit, the trots, the tarry stool,
he grills her on the new bed sheets.
He plants twenty bucks on the dresser.


Only the very wealthy could afford a Book of Hours;
only they could afford devotion.

           Not so, not so, she rails,
           for here is the illuminator who fills the vellum
                     with bas de page and roundels,
                     who sets the gesso
                     for the gold leaf halo;
           here is the scribe, his gall-nut inks and reed,
                     his exemplar propped up,
                     half-uncial at hand;
           here is the lowly parchmenter
                     who scuds and dries and stretches
                     the calfskin upon the herse.
           They do not lack for devotion, this company.

           They do not lack for hours.
           Clinicians might even say they exhibit a pathology
                     of devotion, rapidly dividing.

Division of labor, division of time, the Book of Hours
describes a privacy, away from congregations,
away from the monitors, the rounds, the priests
           of a Children’s Wing

where a boy endures a spinal tap, his ninth,
behind a parchment curtain,
and his mother pats his saffron hair.

           Money, like prayer, seeks out the advantage
           of prayer, like money, an unstable currency.
           Vampirish prayers, collectors, and chemo
           yield vampirish pallor, the root of all evil.


Will the boy live?
           Language and money speak only through bodies.
Will the father withdraw?
           To erase parchment, soak it in milk and scrape with a lunellum.
How will the mother perform her devotions?
           The son on his bed sheet, the figures on envelopes,
           the miniature in pigments, the miniature in clay.



Julie Sheehan



Tucking her snow-white shirt into skinny jeans,
she hitch hikes or wades to Waldbaum’s. A mile remains
itself, she’s noticed, even when it rains
and rides dry up. She pokes her way, her fern-green
Pleather purse an improvised umbrella.
She can’t afford denial at her age,
or dental, either, or the self-help mileage
put on in a jobless recovery. “Helluva
job,” denies the headline. Would she had a stool
to ease her feet, but, no, her shift is to stand
like an egret, one foot up to nurse bad knees.
She breaks for fish sticks. The manager who’ll
cover nods from his high seat of command,
ever alert to workers in the weeds.




JULIE SHEEHAN's three poetry collections are Bar Book, Orient Point and Thaw. A Whiting Writers’ Award winner, her poems have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Kenyon Review, The New Republic, The New Yorker, Parnassus, Prairie Schooner, The Best American Poetry, and Good Poems, American Places. She teaches in and directs the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton.



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