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 –
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.
don’t know how the old man left.