Poetry / March 2012 (Issue 16)


by David W. Landrum

The blizzard clamped a lock of snow
over the city so I worked two shifts.
The cops arrested
anyone who went out without cause
those curfew days.
The hospital was quiet:
routine healing, dying, birth
went on—cycle played out
under lights never turned off.
On coffee break (we had drunk
too much coffee late at night)
a nurse told us a patient had died
on Third Floor, Wing 5C.
The doctor emerged, death certificate
held loosely in his pudgy hand.
He spoke to the nurses:
"Get him ready. I’ll call the family in."
He looked jocose.
Steve and I went to the room.

I had seen corpses but never up that close—
the spoil of death, skin yellow,
waxy to my touch, limbs heavy.
"Put a new gown on him," the nurse said,
"and set him up." We worked with his body,
ruined castle, clay that animated once,
a mere weight now.  We draped the gown
(orange-yellow crepe paper) over
his ruined form. His ponderous hands
we folded, pried the stiff fingers apart
and interlocked them over his stomach,
the oblivion of those eyes
a shocked rejoinder to our active reach.
Each on a side,
we propped him on pillows,
pushed foot switches
to elevate the body.

The doctor brought the sobered family in.

A woman cried, said she
was sure he was with God in heaven—
a niece or grandchild, I assumed.
A man asked to be left alone with him—
a son, most likely. He wailed and then left.
Staff from the funeral home would come
to get the body, we were told.
We walked back to the lounge,
to the coffee pot. The blizzard raged;
no sign of abatement. Dawn would come
with pale, diminished light. Memory
threw cold hands on our speech.
We drank in silence as the snow outside
fell, quiet and steady, in the weakened sun.
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