fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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He Was Not the First Dead Man I X-Rayed

in the Orlando Morgue that summer,
but he was the only one who ever turned
to face me as I lifted his arm for a side view,
trying to locate where the bullet had lodged.
His eyes shut, mouth slack, the dime-sized
hole in his ruined chest, the damp trail
of blood disappearing behind his back.
Shirtless, he still wore jeans and the front
pocket bulged with something—his wallet,
a phone, perhaps his prize for the night’s work.

I’d like to see what he saw in those last
moments, but I can’t. Instead, let me tell
you what he whispered to me in that dark room:
The open window like an invitation.
The promise of a jewelry box.
All of it for me.
He turned to leave through the same
window. Stunned by starlight, stunned
finally by what he couldn’t see.
Now here we are this Friday evening
and what’s left of him is staring back at me.

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Steve Cushman is the author of three novels and three poetry collections, including How Birds Fly, which won the 2018 Lena Shull Book Award. He has worked as an X-ray technologist for thirty years and is currently employed at Cone Health in Greensboro, NC. His new poetry collection, Last Time, which includes this poem, will be published in fall 2023.

About the Poem

“I have X-rayed thousands of people over thirty years, but this one still come backs to me. It’s the story I tell when people ask me for ‘hospital stories,’ so it’s no surprise that I eventually wrote the story in a poem. I can still so vividly see him and me alone in that cold room.”

Comments

7 thoughts on “He Was Not the First Dead Man I X-Rayed”

  1. ‘He turned to leave through the same
    window. Stunned by starlight, stunned
    finally by what he couldn’t see.’

    Appreciate how these lines give dimensionality to this man’s life, beyond just a robber being shot for burglary, unlawful breaking and entering. Leaving a residence through the same window, he also left life transformed by something larger than his life’s narrative.

    Thank you.

  2. This poem is fantastic. I love the imagery, the imagination about what you see in that dark room ( the morgue and the.crime scene, intertwined).

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