Out of Your Head with Fever

By Anita Tanner


“That which had struck into me my first

profound terror, when as a child I lay ill

with fever: the Big Thing.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke


Here the kinship of pain, here the account

of your own childhood illnesses,

the beast that grows in you

with every elevated fever,

swelling in your brain,

billowing, enlarging, becoming

so imminent it swallows you

in unholy dread, threatening sleep

and sanity with cancerous growth–

a hard, dark stone rolling

and filling the world.


This Big Thing neither word

nor imagination can describe,

nor parent have a clue

to what references you allude.

They can only attempt to soothe—

aspirin, maybe a cold washcloth,

out of your head with fever,

tomorrow you’ll feel better.

But it’s accumulative,

one episode building on the last,

fear enlarging with each bout


until finally, decades beyond childhood,

your feet propped after elongated hours,

you open a poet’s hundred-year-old notebook,

himself in exile, and his confessions

begin to fibrillate

your own prodigal heart.