On Being Asked What Kind Of Doctor I Will Be When I Grow Up

by Rebecca Alifimoff

My mother bakes with hands placed inside strangers
and does not tell me what it is like to let someone die.
Spaghetti is a meal served with textbook words, anaesthesia
with marinara, appendectomy with dessert. She tried
to teach me how to swim and stay in place.

The word aspirate is used to describe my father’s wide hands, calloused
against needles, pulling me from the pool. For years after I dreamt
of a salt water lake in my lungs, hidden from the scalpel nails
of my mother, and my father dressed as Morpheus. Hiding behind
corners. Together they would drain me and rake my silt-filled bronchi.

We do not understand the science of general anaesthetics,
how it pulls people under. The trick, my mother says,
her voice floating over a radio discussion on botched executions,
is giving someone enough drugs to kill them
but not letting them die.