Wednesday, December 20, 2006
The ED Sonnets: Room 1
Here I've begun to run into a narrative difficulty. In fiction, one doesn't tell everything: writers leave out the boring bits about how the protagonist got from the bed to the kitchen table, for instance. My original conception for this sonnet cycle was one poem per bed, but of course, not every visit is "meaningful." Some patients don't want to talk to me; some are asleep; and at any time, I'm liable to be swept out of the way by the arrival of medical folks, who are far more important (and very properly so) than I am. This is why many chaplains don't enjoy ED work. It's often pretty fragmentary, although of course there are also patients who've been in the department for hours, are bored or worried out of their minds, and desperately need to talk.
So, anyway, these three sonnets depict those kinds of visits. But are they too realistic, and therefore boring? Would I be better off summarizing the entire room in one poem? (The next set will be about deeper visits, but I'd be interested in hearing readers' thoughts on these.)
There's also a technical issue. I struggled for quite a while with the final couplet for the second poem. I like the one I finally came up, partly because of the pun in the last line, but that means that both the first and second poems end with that "doubt/out" rhyme. Does this mean fixing? Should I change one of them? Or, instead, should I revise the third poem to end that way too, since "out" is more or less the theme of this room?
Thanks in advance for your feedback!
Right now I feel less holy than a head
of cabbage. It’s too early for a break --
I’ve only seen three patients -- so instead
I’ll choose an easy room (I hope) to make
this stretch less draining. Ah, one-one’s asleep;
that worked out well. He’s middle-aged and gaunt,
cheeks sunken, forehead bloody, clothes a heap
beside the bed. He twitches. Spirits haunt
his dreams: distilled, I think. Oblivious
to wailing from next door, he snores in peace,
hands pillowing his cheek. I’m envious.
I practice seeing Christ in him, release
my anger at the mom, note mocking doubt.
So easy to be loving when they’re out.
Next door, a baby howls. His parents -- young
and anxious -- hover, cuddle, whisper rhymes
and lullabies. “He’s gorgeous, with the lungs
of champions,” I say. They laugh. “Each time
he’s sick, we get so scared! We hate to bring
him here, but with this fever . . .Tylenol’s
no good. The doctors want to do this thing --
a spinal tap?” The baby caterwauls
so loudly I can hardly hear them. Then
a doctor, nurse and EMT arrive:
time for the test. “I’ll come and visit when
they’re done,” I say. The baby will survive
this better than his parents, I’ve no doubt.
They haven’t heard. The doctor’s in; I’m out.
“Hello! Aren’t you a sweetheart to come by!”
She’s sitting up and beaming, ankle propped
on pillows. “I sure hope that little guy
will be all right.” (Have curtains ever stopped
the slightest sound? Is HIPAA unaware
that cotton’s not concrete?) “That foot looks sore,”
I say. She nods. “I tumbled down the stairs.
The puppy tripped me. Now we’re waiting for
the films. They think I might need surgery.”
“That’s awful! Did the pup apologize?”
She chortles. “Duke’s a big old baby, see,
a Newfoundland who doesn’t know his size.
My son’s home walking him -- oh, here’s my nurse!
Thanks, Susan: pray this evening gets no worse!”