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Hospital, Night

Hospital, Night

When she wheeled me in,

her body was no longer filmed with light,

her voice and my voice

no longer came muffled, metallic

like the transistor talk that hisses

from old radios, and I couldn’t smell the dark anymore.


I told her so.  But she still clapped tags

on both wrists: my name

in block letters, as if – lying

in a paper coat on a rolling cot,

studying the blue buzz of fluorescent panels passing overhead –

I might forget how to remember it. 



Remember: it was before he worked in a hospital

that Whitman believed he could translate

the hints from the dead

whose words he found sprouting

in clumps from the earth;

it was before the war he tried

to stop with a song started anyway,

before he volunteered to patch up selves

other selves blew to pieces,

back when death and grass

were still out of hopeful green stuff woven. 



Green floral curtains cut the ER in strips,

homey touch not hard to tear away

if a patient’s heart should sputter out.


The drapes didn’t reach;

they fluttered a foot apart

so I could see the old man in the bed beside mine –

as unflinching as the doctors

who blinked bright lights into his eyes. 


I wanted him to scream or sob or anything

but lie there, quiet

as the dead the machines

refused to let him meet. 



In the Coplas, Manrique’s father

on his sickbed meets Death and chooses

the medieval buena muerte:

to rise and walk to the doors of paradise,

turning at the threshold to give his last words

in perfect rhyme and meter. 



A doctor pulled the curtains closed

and checked a meter one last time:

Well you’re fine now, sometimes

these spells just happen. 


As if all it would take to dismiss it –

sudden shock of pain,

the senses spinning out of themselves

then crashing in so sharp

I could see sweat bead from every pore –

were knowing

there’s no way of knowing

why it had happened at all. 



I know pattern demands an allusion here,

but listen: Manrique’s dead, and Whitman with him. 

I’m still not. 


They let me go

and I walked the two miles home,

gulping the morning air, watching

the rise and fall of my shaky legs. 


I don’t know how the old man left. 

Posted 10/22/14
First published in Carolina Creates.
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