Howard F. Stein
We know so much about you–
Your blood, your urine, your internal organs.
We can see everything.
There is precious little that
Is not wrong with you medically.
Still, you do not listen to us.
You miss appointments;
You don’t go to referrals we’ve made.
Do you defy us or merely not understand
How dire your condition is?
You could die at any time,
We have told you more than once.
Still, you muddle along as if all we know
Does not matter. Tell me, what
Is missing from our story?
One: secretarial computer screen:
appointments, cancellations. Two: machine
we’re here for, registering your heart’s each pump
with grainy images that throb and jump
in sync with the obscure interior.
Three: anticlimactic VCR
screen, a tiny, garish old cartoon
squawking and jerking in the darkened room.
Past these respective renderings of vision
we move next door. Here the examination
is palpable, is stethoscope to chest:
breath in, out, raise your arms, stand, squat, and rest.
I’m sitting, staring vaguely at the sky–
from the ninth floor, a pale blue vacancy.
Your tests show
the numbers 73, 90, 119 and 2.5,
the letter A,
the color yellow,
a straight line interrupted by a repeating pattern
of steeples and languid waves,
a gray asymmetrical oval
filled with fine white tracery,
I’m not sure what to make of these.
With the possible exception of II,
which like all Roman numerals
is subject to misinterpretation,
I see no cause for alarm.
I admit to a preference for low numbers,
the apothecary system over the metric
(my age, perhaps, and distrust
Exhaustion sets in by day’s end
when the old Pakistani woman
hobbles into my office.
Raccoon eyes underscore the pain
she feels in her left leg. More cavalier
than a Hippocratic disciple should be,
I pull up her djellaba* to expose
the dark, tumescent flesh of her calf
monogrammed by serpiginous veins.
I am too aggressive with the needles
that search for the source
of the white-hot poker lancinating
from ankle to groin, muscular infidelity.
She is stoic,
what if we went slowly thoughtfullyabout the business of healing
what if I bowedto you and you to mebefore we touched aching bodies
what if we saidout loudthisis sacred workmight I be madeworthy
what if I blessed your handsand you minebefore we began
broken bodieshungry souls
would we then returnto the placewhere so long agowe felt called
where we knew for sure thatwe did indeedhave hearts
hearts that beat confidentlyfullof ambition
hearts that were courageousenough to break
againand againand again