It’s also called “wisdom
stone.” Here there are whole walls of it, shades of dark luminous
blue veined with white
so it looks like craggy mountains dotted with a few scrawny pines
of snow, along the edges of which a road winds. Tiny people,
trudge slowly up the white winter road towards the blue mountains.
Theirs is a long
journey. Where are they going? The mountains are uninhabitable.
I know it’s all
imaginary, my own Rorschach. Instead of ink blots, blue sodalite
from the Bolivian Andes, transported by train, boat, truck, then cut,
polished to a high sheen,
and set into a cherry-paneled wall in the Stephen and Barbara
Cancer Education Center. The placard next to the marble says:
is believed to aid in concentration and to quiet inner turmoil.
that it also has healing properties. We encourage you
to touch the wall.”
It feels smooth, cold. Its small blue marble people resemble
men, women, teenagers, and occasional children crowding this morning
onto the motel shuttle
bound in the dim blue light of dawn for the Mayo Clinic, our Lourdes,
thirteen blocks away.
It is seven degrees, a foot of new-fallen snow in Rochester, Minnesota,
where my wife and I
have come to consult a doctor about the side effects
she’s still experiencing
from the rheumatoid arthritis drug she discontinued five months ago,
called Enbrel. She still suffers from slight, intermittent tremors,
but the neuropathy—
“electrical zaps” in her hands and feet, as she describes it—have abated.
We too boarded
the shuttle. We saw Dr. Michet, who examined Dana’s X-rays,
thought the joints
in her gray, skeletal feet and hands on the black velvet
film on his light box
“looked good,” considering the fourteen years she’s had the disease,
and that she
was “perhaps being over-medicated.” He was stumped
by her newly diagnosed
thiamine deficiency. “Perhaps celiac sprue?” He ordered
a blood draw
and then an MRI to rule out Parkinson’s. We took the elevator
down to the “subway
level,” walked underground to the Hilton Building, Desk C, and waited
in the waiting area
for Dana’s name to be called. No one paid any attention
to Ellsworth Kelly’s
eleven, brightly colored squares, rectangles, parallelograms,
hung on the white wall. Or to Joan Miró’s lithographs
surreal figures—The Mad Woman with Ill-Tempered Pimento,
Warrior, Big Oysterwoman, Chauffeur of the Moon,
Wielder of Dumb Bells.
Miró’s wacky humor fell flat. Everyone sat in leather chairs
or in their wheelchairs
as if in a luxurious airport terminal, waiting for their flight
to Maui, the Cayman
Islands, or some other spot in the sun to be announced
over the intercom.
Instead, a nurse in a light blue lab coat called out,
“Anne Marie Kaufman,
Door B, please . . .” as if it were a game show that Anne Marie
had won. She had to go
to Door B to collect her mystery prize. In the back of the room
a black-haired woman
with an aquiline nose vomited quietly into a plastic bag.
I had heard
her tell the woman seated next to her that she had
and that her monthly infusions had allowed her to lead
a normal life
until two weeks ago when they had stopped working.
Now she couldn’t keep
anything down. We are traveling the high mountain passes
within a block of blue
sodalite marble. It is starting to snow. At this altitude
the air thins
and becomes harder to breathe. We get dizzy. We walk until
the cliffs that are
sheer, two-hundred-foot drops on either side of us disappear
in the blizzard’s
whiteout. We crawl on hands and knees, feeling for the path
as we go.