The Weight of Loss

Honorable Mention: 2023 Sandy Crimmins Poetry Contest


I don’t hear the doctor at first

when she asks if I’ve been sleeping

better these nights, if I’ve cut back

on the raw fish, if the migraines

have subsided, because my mind

is gridlocked, caught between some weight

and height on the BMI chart

tacked on the wall of her office,

as if my body were hanging

there too.

That’s when I remember

some random bit of trivia,

how the first body mass index

was based on the weights of corpses,

and I laugh at the irony,

how all these years I’ve been striving

to be as fit as a dead man,

controlling portions, passing on

seconds or dessert, forgetting

how much I loved my wife’s brownies,

when she would dump an extra cup

of walnuts into the batter

because she knew I loved the crunch,

when we’d clear dishes together,

clean up our kitchen messes, those

memories so near, I try to

close my eyes around them, savor

my daily allowance of loss

as I try to get back those years

before that disappearing trick,

before I became a walking


I’m snapped back into

reality when the doctor

presses the stethoscope against

my skin, tells me to breathe, as though

I haven’t been. She asks again

if I’ve been sleeping more soundly

as she slides the cold drum across

the smooth map of my heart, tells me

to breathe deep, and again, and now

to just breathe normally, as if

that request were simple, as if

I have been overthinking it

these last few years, as if my lungs

hadn’t been at work all the while,

toiling against their master’s will.

Robert Fillman is the author of House Bird (Terrapin, 2022) and November Weather Spell (Main Street Rag, 2019). Individual poems have appeared in such venues as The Hollins Critic, Ninth Letter, Philadelphia Stories, Salamander, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and Verse Daily. He holds a Ph.D. in English from Lehigh University and teaches at Kutztown University in eastern Pennsylvania.