The First Checkup After My Mother Died

The doctor noticed me fidgeting with my ears
like a toddler, and asked if he could look at them.

Yes, I told him, they had been bothering me,
and I didn’t know why.

After the examination, he asked if I had been
through something traumatic recently—

a breakup, or a loss of a job. Yes, I told him,
not wanting to explain. How did you know?

Well, he told me, this type of infection
is most commonly among people who have

gotten in a pattern of holding back tears.
If you don’t allow those tears to drain the way

they are supposed to, they stay inside, cause a lot of pain.
Do you think this is what’s happening to you? he asked.

Yes, I nodded,
and held back my tears.


Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz is the author of six books of poetry, most recently The Year of No Mistakes (Write Bloody Publishing, 2013), which was named TX Book of the Year for Poetry by the Writers’ League of Texas. She is also the author of two books of nonfiction, most recently Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine (Avery Books / Penguin, 2014), which was on The New York Times Best Seller list for three months. Her seventh book of poetry will be released this winter by Write Bloody Publishing.