Rina Palumbo


My sister has amnesia.

Asthma. I think you mean asthma. Your sister has asthma.

My sister has asthma. I shared a bedroom with her, twin beds, each against an opposite wall. During the day, she had her inhaler. She could take a puff of nebulized steroidal anti-inflammatory, and her breathing would get slower, deeper, and easier. She always had it with her, in a pocket, in her hand, always ready to use before the noises started. But  night was different. At night, it was just another thing on her bedside table. I would go over to her, when it was too quiet for too long, and I would tap her toe or shoulder to ensure she was only sleeping. 

But it wasn’t very quiet for very long. Those sounds started soon enough. There wasn’t anything like them. They were big and loud; they seemed to come from outside the open window, all the way from the star-infested sky, and they seemed to come from those deep shadows under the bed, and from that crack between the floor and the wall, and from the split in the ceiling, and from everywhere open except her mouth. The noises didn’t seem human; those sounds of contracted muscles serpentine on bronchial tubes, trapping air in inflamed and swollen airwaves, those tubes, in turn, filled with excess fluid and infiltrated by immune cells. The inhaled air was trapped in those too-small spaces. Each labored exhale was a release of too little air, the noises from that air being forced out, over and over and over again. No perfect rhythm, only a jagged cycle. Dysphonic. 

I hated this. I wanted to make the noises stop. I wanted to make the noises stop by trying to cure the discordance. When the noises started, I would dig my fingernails into my arm. When the noises stopped, I would let go. My arm, only bruised then, laced with crescent scars now.

And, I wanted to have asthma so I could sleep with animals in my chest and join in the night noises. 

Amnesia would have been better.

My sister has amnesia

Then, I could wish I had amnesia.

And then, only incised white scythes glowing pale.


Rina Palumbo (she/her) has a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins and is working on a novel and two nonfiction long-form writing projects alongside short fiction, creative nonfiction, and prose poetry. Her work is forthcoming or appears in Ghost Parachute, Milk Candy, Bending Genres, Anti-Heroin Chic, Identity Theory, and Stonecoast Review et al.