Bright blue hole burns in her chest Just above where the guts start Blue like that slit growing in her head
I don’t want to talk about it I don’t want to think about it
Always wanted to be an ICU nurse Hard stuff, the real action I’ve got five on ventilators Usually it’s two Will my luck hold or Hold me ransom?
You don’t cry, you weep
They’re lying prone, breaths too shallow Rustling hearts pushing Dark red blood into white glazed eyes I hope they can’t see where they are Three alarm bells ringing Who’s on first?
I don’t want to think about it I do need to talk about it
A pneumothorax; no wonder he’s blue Now he’s less than half a lung Can I place the chest tube myself If I screw up will he still make it?
You don’t weep, you cry
The fever burns through fast Heat pouring from pale-blue palms I’d pack her in ice but that won’t help We’re born trapped in dying bodies but She thought they’d have years Not hours
I’d like not to think about it I don’t wish to dream about it
They come in and go out Leaving for some permanent address Too many of them, too few of us The walls so thick no one sees Blood seeps through on the other side Will I ever do this job right? I keep crying
Dream I’m in an ICU bed Tube furry-thick in my throat Face slicked down on a sheet That glare I see at work Are the lights I see now Shadows zigzag through my hands I’m cold Yet a hot blue hole burns my chest Thin spikes shoot deep in my head
I don’t want to talk about it I don’t want to think I don’t want to
The med school’s histology lab at night: Covered microscopes, thousands of boxed slides Tiny glass stained cathedrals from so many lost They never knew us; we knew nothing of them The corner drawers marked in clear hand “Used Brains, 1968-69”
I had to look, a soft quick pull and There they were, straight rows and columns So quiet they startled the fluorescents to silence Surfaces the texture of a winter evening
Used for? Used up? Not clearly used at all Uncut, unsectioned, no pebbly tumors, clean Stripped only of their gossamer fibrous sheaths The mind’s transparent wings
Who were they? How and where taken? The riots erupted only blocks away Had Martin and Bobby’s deaths’ caused theirs? These cool brains were not telling
Feeling a fool amidst their grave silence We watched each other a long while Quietly sitting and passing the night Clouds visit tall windows while the clock ticks So much I wished to know from them So much they might ask me
And where are those brains today Concealed or revealed? Elevated? Liquidated? On another cool winter evening I wish I knew what they wanted to ask Knowing the answers I might have given All I can’t say now
You often can’t know what is lost Especially when it’s your brain If medical school best performed by trained apes We stood eager and nervous apes Engaging all that career’s possibilities: Education through humiliation Recurrent thirty-six hour shifts Falling asleep at birthday parties
Yet I was not prepared for the first day’s command: “Give us your brain We must stuff your head with so many facts There’s need to free up all its space Don’t worry, in the end we’ll give it back.”
The unzipping painless, floods of facts copious We hardly noticed except on rare holidays: Parental disquiet with changed personalities A lessening of levity for all things living We sensed no choice. “Make a mistake and the patient dies.” Who would not try to plan for perfection?
At the end of the long training decade We clamored to get our old brains back Yet we’d been tricked – no space was left I recalled Dr. Guevara’s revolutionary dictum: Medical training the worst waste of one’s youth Ever devised Castro’s quack was right on track
Each year I lose more of my medical brain Worries mash my pulpy grey mass Now I think there’s room for the old one Any idea where they put it?
I do wish I would lie But I’m sure I’m here to die Luck has lucked out, smart fate Love, fear, old mates Have come together to make this visit Needed, though I’d rather not live it
Is what I fear the fact of death Or the idea of death? Becoming No Thing, no self, gone Expunged, lost, lint on a lawn Yet complete nothingness quickly attained My insurance card is stained Said coverage to my name cannot belong Should I leap, run out, burst into song?
But jerkily the numbers curl up to match I’m certified, caught, plus add this catch There are millions of bits that can go wrong Amassing and merging as life grows long My brain can fail a billion ways My cells turn cancerous in less than a day Will they truly discover what’s wrong with me Or need a new lifetime to find out and see?
I can’t crack open my mouth – they don’t know what’s wrong My melody weakens like hack country songs I’ve already enjoyed dozens of tests They say I must stay to sample the rest If I survive them will I then survive? For a dark, silent moment I sense hope revive
My new home’s like the cathedrals of old Sky topping naves, spires bright bold Working full pace to cancel reality Banking to profit on simple duality – Life or death, God or chaos, yes or no All together sprinting to patch up a show Profiting on hope, lives and souls Faith cut to pieces by surgical holes
The species survives. We don’t Immortality can’t, won’t On earth as in heaven We humor ourselves with bright lights to leaven The unpalatable fact We’re not coming back
Like movie stars grunting “we’re going in” I feel a failed hero while stuffed in a bin The bodyscan reports I’m not heartless The brain MRI I’m boring and artless They can’t find the reason I’m ill and yet here Is it time to just give up and buy me a seer?
Yet faintly my idea of death starts to die Though the chill down my neck sticks and lies My shrunken self is sorry scared All my tight senses sharply aware Yet I’m only here through others The long line of sisters and mothers Near four billion years to get to this place Formed from stars, comets, plague wars to race Through the fields and seas of father earth That patched microcosm of curses and hearths
Long live this crazed crowd as I merge into cloud
We come and go but It will keep going Past our mistakes, past all our knowing The planet is hived with grand intelligences Even if its masters have lost all their senses Past the dumpsters below where I’ve lain The rivers and mountains will surely remain
It’s going so fast Can’t possibly last My memory, I mean I don’t like change so It’s great to forget
Now I’ve the engine for it Little switch in my skull Like there’s a television up there Right in the middle of the brain box Lots of shows: animals, trains Mother and the kids I watch, laugh, cry But sometimes I just get static Grey fuzz that leaves me hungry
Often feel I’m in two places Staying there and being here Still it makes life happier Waiting for that sunny day I don’t worry, I don’t care Don’t know who, can’t find where Except that room with food
But I can recall you, friend That we were friends That we were Now I just am
My nation’s two hundredth birthday’s coming I’m leaving The last exit from Brooklyn A bus humming to Montreal
The Oratoire de Saint Joseph Displays worn crutches of the healed Much quicker cures than my doctor’s trade Medical school best learned by a trained ape Most apes too smart to train
Montreals songbirds are much louder than Brooklyn’s I walk right into a man whose Confident eyes don’t match fidget hands Mimes the swift anger of his children Laughs when he cries
The museum guard cares not for Clemenceau’s ceramics Hidden in suitcases during the war The children are lost to him His love insufficient to love himself In the bathroom I ask the mirror How does this face make me a confessor?
The woman in the gallery wears thick lenses, whispers: I married a wild man who loved the wilderness Built a hut, grew our food The child, the worries, all mine
Good that Montreal keeps experts from far countries Beri-beri wrecked her sight Her shoulders round as a ball Says never before told her tale
Next week I cross this great northern continent Fall for a teacher bound for the arctic Freeze in a tent on the fourth of July Hike the shores of green mountain lakes Reach the Pacific Cold blue waves, ringing from the East
But I most remember those who told their tales Who gave me what they could when I was useless Too young to know what they did
The Chinese say you Must walk ten thousand li Read ten thousand books Before you paint the world
When you hear ten thousands lives You too might learn to live
My body floats inches under the ceiling I enjoy looking up at my private heaven White painted popcorn, each wrinkle a star Every sweep of my hand crosses dozens of light years A man can lie there
I’m not sure why I drank all the fluids For engines, not people The taste was awful but I am on a diet I wanted solitude, peace Not a scope down my throat Now I just lie It’s hard to fly up when your arms are strapped down
Suicide is surrender I didn’t want to die, just go When you’ve made a mess, you leave
Soon as they let me I’ll visit my heaven Touch all the stars with the tips of my fingers Meet some new beings who might understand
Quietly I’ll hang above, drift back and forth A man can lie there