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Reading Dante in the ICU

Today I’d like to talk for a while about death
among the gift shop’s plush koalas and chrysanthemums,
its aisles and aisles of light-dazed kittens

pouting from cards. Upstairs a surgeon
is drilling a hole in my father’s brain,
and what pours forth when the burr pulls out

could be a sort of anthem
for the miracle-believers of the world—more likely
it will just be blood. So many cards. So many

get-well cats in stethoscopes, dressed as nurses,
white inside. If I tell you, now, that once
I had to kill a mewling thing like these

because its back was a corkscrew, broken
by someone else’s boot, would you think
I’d shown it mercy? Would you think I’d been humane?

By now, the surgeon is telling his assistant
that sometimes the way out is through, in these cases:
when the drill punches in, the patient comes to,

as if he’d trekked back to the maze-like places
of youth, or the womb, and just needed a space
to escape through. In hell,

says Dante, there is just such a space,
although no one ever finds it—
so some of the dead must do

what they refused to do in life, forever,
while others must do the things they did, over
and over again. In an hour or two

the surgeon will call me in, and frown,
and smooth his green gown, and give me
the odds. And then I’ll be left to the hoses

inflating my father with breath. Some things
I’ve done in this world I know
I’ll have to do again.

Posted 11/10/14
from THE NIGHT WE'RE NOT SLEEPING IN, winner of the 2013 Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry (Sarabande Books, 2014, http://www.sarabandebooks.org/new-forthcoming/the-night-were-not-sleeping-in-sean-bishop-2). First published in SALT HILL issue 27.
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