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Educating a Surgeon

My grandmother’s bed bounced high
But I lost the pillow in my hands
Four stitches in the small town
green tiled emergency room
where peering intently into the mirrored light
I was mad because I couldn’t see

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This Is How You Cope With Cancer

Bleach your hair,

get drunk on champagne,

pretend the left and right halves of your face are the exact same,

ignore and deny it, laugh loudly–too loudly,

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Flashback

I notice the name on the waiting room
tab; it’s not a remarkable name,
but one I remember
from elementary school

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Things My Wife Left in the ICU

A pacemaker and defibrillator

Sheets pressed hard with suffering

Seven fingers and one arm, gangrenous dead

Unknown liters of blood

Failed kidneys

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Decision

B546 wants to die
eight years after they saved her.
Cervical-cord injuries are cruel.
For Maria it was a gunshot,
but it could have been a car wreck, a fall,
or a drunken misstep off a roof.
The reasons seemed to matter; now they don’t.
Thirty-two, alone, paralyzed, on a vent,
she mouths “no” to the antibiotics, the heart meds.
“I want to die,” she shouts

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Back Pain

Back Pain

A 77-year-old woman presents with back pain.
No trauma. No radiation. No red flags.
ROS* otherwise surprisingly negative.
Her exam is unremarkable, actually pretty darn good.
FROM, negative SLR, full distal strength, sensation and DTRs.*
After the usual cautions I reassure her,
prescribe activity, no meds and the tincture of time.
She is fine with that, appreciative and pleasant.
Then she says, “Should I

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A Short Explanation of Everything

A Short Explanation of Everything

Our patient says she’s burning up, burning up.
We sponge her off. This student is learning how blood boils,
how shaking chills and drenching sweats punctuate fever,
how water moves in and out of cells
along concentration gradients, how nerves talk,
how some circuits turn all the lights on and all the lights off,
how hearts beat one cell at a time while squeezing together
and in sequence, how the

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On the Grounds of a Former State Mental Hospital

On the Grounds of a Former State Mental Hospital

Through wounds in whitewash, brick edges crumble
To red dust. Weeds pierce the interstices of paths slowly
Giving themselves up to trackless overgrowth
Are all shapes broken that differ from expected forms
Or is this slant just as proper to a cupola as symmetry?
Not if it lets the rain in, I suppose
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Whatever Else

Whatever Else

Of course, I wanted to save you
from all this–from machines
and plastic tubes, from the shooters
with their dyes, from the guys
who scan your organs
for the truth, from waits in cold rooms
whose lights illuminate your life
and make it…nothing. I respected
the darkness in you–your son
dead in a senseless crash, the stroke
itself, your husband’s absence.

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Sounds

Sounds

Sound comes crawling through, leaping
from its suitcase of slightly sweaty skin
across to the diaphragm, a divide keeping
him from me, now breached, the world now open
crawling up a well-used black rubber tunnel
to my ears, calling to me, waiting to begin
knowing, albeit briefly, the mysteries within.
Slow, deep whoosh, slow, deep rumble,
in, out, in, out, in, out, the rhythm of breath,
repetition,

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Last Day

Last Day

It’s my job to empty a plastic bag
filled with meds both past and present
and read out loud the labels of those we stopped,
and explain why, and while we’re on why
why he needs oxygen at night, and the rescue inhaler.
Between pills it’s my job to ask in a generic way
about life outside the clinic? He takes out his phone
because his story needs a prop.
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Training During the Plague

Training During the Plague

If you had told me thirty years ago,
when I took call on endless sleepless nights
on incandescent AIDS wards full of fear
on which I tried to do the healing work
of drawing blood and packing leaking wounds
and viewing films of microbes gone berserk
in lungs and brains of patients wasted frail
to postpone certain death from HIV,
if you had told me then

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