Sunday, November 02, 2003

Nones: Outpatient

Only two of the divine hours remain unwritten in my series -- terce, nine AM, the start of the workday, and nones, midafternoon, the slump, the cluttered worldly dregs of time. I think an old poem, circa 2001, fits the 3 PM slot perfectly -- a poem I wrote after I saw a group of young men wearing work clothes hugging each other and wailing in the parking lot outside my window at the hospital. I later learned that a fellow worker had died on the job of some awful injury.

I've been too distracted of late to write. Maybe this fits.


The sound, convulsive, musicless, disturbed
the clinic’s drone of paperwork and care,
and, summoned, we attended. It was woe
that froze our pens and stethoscopes midflight,
a woe so whorled and intimate it seemed
our ears were die-cast complements. And then

it stopped. We knew it would, of course. We knew
the chaplain would sweep down ex machinae ,
ex beeper, cell phone, elevator, stat,
and do whatever thing it is he does,
while we got back to doing all we could,
which isn’t much. And, all that afternoon,

amidst a crowded service of dull noise --
heat’s shuffle through coiled corridors, the cough
and spit of sleet and wind on the gray pane,
the hiss of the flickering overheads, the grave,
determined data rattling into banks --
my ears kept picking up that note of woe,

as perfectly attuned to its long wave
as a maternal ear to one child’s cry.
But then a keener sound crescendoed near,
two sirens bawling in and out of phase,
a lullaby, a ululation, then,
outside Emergency’s tokenless gate,

an ear-from-cosmos splitting unison.

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