If my doctors had told me, You have stars in your eyes,
the line more than a metaphor of
young love; or if seeing stars meant something other
than being knocked out cold,
how could the feelings of old age be hurt by a diagnosis
of cataracts? Language is everything.
I know that I saw stars whenever I
walked into the sun, or when oncoming cars
blinded me with headlights.
How often I'm drawn into
danger by mirage. Bold asterisks of color
eclipse the blurred street names, transform the landscape.
In books, I find names worthy of a poet.
I ask my surgeon the proper term for my singular pair
of cataracts. He kindly spares me senile
although I'm 83 and the shoe fits.
Must I dissemble, sweeten
the pill with euphemism, and say I suffer from
senior cataracts? Nuclear cortical, my doctor says,
sending me off to global war and regions
of the brain that make me nervous. I toy with metaphoric
names that please the mind's
eye and tame my disorder: Snowflake... Snowstorm, I try.
Then Sunflower... Perhaps Glassblower's
Cataract. I substitute Cuneiform
from Persia: ancient rock inscriptions. Or those of
Babylon on brick and stone, a secret
for Scorpios, Cuneiform; white opaque, wedgelike,
sometimes called Arrowhead, ranged in
spokes around the cortex border. One left: Spindle
to get a handle on the matter. Starlight
again in my eyes because Spindle's tied to those
of us who spin -- that eight-legged
spider whose spinnerets veil my eye and bar
light from the lens.
* * * * *
Spectral Waves, which won the 2007 Washington State Book Award for Poetry. "Naming the Cataracts" is in the latter collection.
DeFrees, who will turn 91 this month, has lived most of her life in Oregon and Washington. She served the Catholic church as a nun for 37 years, from 1936 to 1973, after which she taught at the Holy Names College, the University of Montana and the University of Massachusetts until she retired to Seattle in 1985.
DeFrees has continued to hold residencies and teach at low-residency programs in the Pacific Northwest and lectured at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (Whidbey Writers Workshop) in January 2009. She has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry and a grant from The National Endowment for the Arts.