She’s still soft asleep
I would bury her body in words
Ravish her silk ribbed neck
Yet speech might arouse her
The moon peeks in and taps her wrist
I should not end dreams
I’ve not dreamed myself
My nurse stirs
Perhaps my muttered curses
Will buy not love but a short syringe
Betray me to that passionate seduction:
The delirious fantasy of hope


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

Used Brains



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?

And if I do get it back
Will it still work?

The Hospital


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




Timeless (for P.L.)


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

When Your Heart Stops



The absent heartbeat
Kicks the alarm, shrieks
You run, clip the switch
Blue lights spin like roulette
The jolt
A man jumps
Twitches, collapses
Charge again
Shock him another time
This jump’s higher
A pulse but the green wave sags
He’s still dead
Confessor? Assessor? Professor?
If he wakes we’ll see if he knows
Third time round odds are down
I just shock ‘em, fate sorts them
Or God, they say
Jolt number three
One, two, four, a burst
Surging electric life
We’ve got a heart
When it’s time to die
Humans don’t wait
You just keep going
When your heart’s a machine




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

Big D (Depression)



Some friends just leave
This companion sticks
Even in sleep D
Turns director of dreams
Flings you across collapsing hallways
Slams your hands into bedrails
Transforming to knives
Just as you wake up

They call D an animal
Melancholy’s black dog
Shoo it away and it stays
Kick it, fur turns stone
Offer D a treat
D feeds on you

Afternoon and evening
Identical every moment
Minutes feel hours, but who’s counting?
There’s games, TV, baseboards
Each sends the same message:
The situation so serious
It can’t be serious

These days I talk a lot to D
Never get a reply
Not even the familiar fulminations:
You could have been
A force, made a real difference
Hearing old tales makes you tired

You need your energy for the nights
When you demand sleep
D refuses
Once you doze D steals closer
Leaps into your brain
Confides to your soul:
Nothing there at all

If life’s an illusion
I need a new writer
Not pills or doctors
A real playwright
She’ll spin a new story
My existence elsewhere
A ticket out

I used to worry about
Pensions, nursing homes
Not since the future went away
My new responsibilities:
To have none

Never before in my life
Did I find this ceiling so damned fascinating
When my eyes open
I can’t stop looking

A Place to Put One’s Head



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