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My sister asked me to go out into the hall.
I went out into the hall. She asked me
to go farther, not just down the hall
but to the other side of the trauma ward
where the bank of windows faced west
and where, during the third dressing change,
I sat in the chair by the elevator and tried
to persuade myself that the setting sun
felt good on my skin, was warming me.
But really I was plotting how to cheat,
to sneak back on her side of the hospital,
not only on her side but next to her door,
not only next to but inside the door,
to be inside and with her when the nurse
drew the gray curtains, when the flowers
on the sill were trapped between window
and cloth, pressed up against the glass
like some embalmed specimen. I felt
the same crease of cool air slicing her
in half, turning over onto her stomach,
the thin gown sliding open in back,
the spine, the cleaving calves, we are
two halves. And I watched the nurse
placing white gauze in a stack, counted
the morphine drips, tried to find some sort
of rhythm in it all, some sort of pattern,
the way her skin would later be, meshed
by making lengthwise nicks in succession,
stippled like the pincushion of a seamstress
who kept her needles meticulous in rows
down and across in the cushion's flesh.
And all of this to be torn apart. Yes,
to at least hear her scream, to hold
her hand, her head even, while the nurse
again ripped the bandage off in order
to keep the wound fresh, keep it fertile
for grafting. But she had asked me
to go out into the hall. I sat in the chair
on the west side of the building and
pretended to find patience in warmth
while she screamed over there, screamed
because there was nothing left to try,
no anodyne that would be strong enough.
And she asked me to go into the hall.
And she screamed because it was wrong
and she wouldn't say that it was wrong
and she wouldn't let me see so that I
might say that it was wrong. I sat there
with only my careless imagination, a mirror
unable to reflect from such a distance
without distorting, a lung inhaling smoke,
that it may be closer to numbness and pain.

Mira Rosenthal

The Local World
The Kent State University Press

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