Must another love story end, and how, and when? Asthmatic, shifty,
and hood-zipped with snow ghosting the 2 AM Kalamazoo avenues, Ann and I
hunch and hobble the hospital parking lot
with our tube-socks soiled, the dead asphalt buried in dirty slush,

the automatic urgent care door yawning open, and we want
to spill our emergency all over the hallways, but insurance forms, signatures,
the blank faces of receptionist
cashiers cataloguing, monotoning, two photocopies, two keyboards,

an examined and re-examined ID, and as a wallet fumbles open painfully
from a purse to squeeze out an insurance card, the hurt widens, widening, and Ann
doubles over as if some tank-grenade has detonated
in her belly and is still detonating, its shrapnel spreading

heat beneath her skin, and I try to know that hurt but can’t.
The plastic waiting
space waits for us, our faraway planet, our tundra,
our inhuman cement and linoleum upon which we are so fragile tonight,

and bare walls,
popcorn-acoustic clouds,
vending-machine potato chips,
Cosmo subscriptions and Sports Illustrated complimentary ballpoint pens,

cardboard-armchairs,
a vinyl ficus. How much for a limb? How much
for a heart? The fragrance
of fear windmills through us—the double-parked wheelchairs,

abandoned bandages, a scab left behind on a pile of gauze, something human
must have been here on this surface bleached clean,
the ceiling fans on pause, a band-aid on a bullet-wound, a man with a roofing nail
buried in his shin somewhere

on the other side of the wall, screaming, Oh my God, 
Oh my God! Oh God, do you exist in the background
jazz behind Ann’s last name read aloud, clipboard-
butchered as a nurse gurneys her away to x-ray, sonogram, plastic-glass camera-lens

ray-gun eye-scope, chrome probe, and Oh God,
the EKG’s 2/4 time signature keeps the terrified
beat, blood tubed, IV bagging,
blue latex, all the ice water styro-foamed? The open-backed gown has always worried us,

and another automatic door sighs
open to rows upon rows, rows
of facemasked nurses scrolling IMs and emails, googling, double-
clicking like navy-blued machines mousing

orderly across giant plasma monitors, assembly-line like, quiet like night-shift factory wallpaper,
and in Ann’s room without her, I fashion
expectant trenches, pile the sandbags,
fidget my sunflower-seeded pockets with wet fists,

prepare for war
against whatever chemical-celled, bacteria-terrorist or diseased battalion
will launch its assault over this hill
at the guts of my lover, and I channel-surf through

my hospital memories: twelve years old
and my comatose grandmother’s colostomy bag flooding with piss and shit
and my family pretending not to notice, all of us pretending not to know
her black colon, but we can hear it, and my grandfather’s second heart surgery

four years before, his first two years before that, and then I feel myself on the gurney, diving
the double doors
to emergency surgery, my skateboard-ruptured spleen at five, my gasmask,
my count backwards from ten, my wake up,

the feeling of my body having been intruded,
and I still must believe
my surviving had a purpose, but I don’t know why
I must believe. Because it’s already 4 AM now,

the flatscreen sleeping, ice melted, the Norco kicking in, Ann and I,
foxholed, dug in, holding hands and waiting on the enemy
I’ll kill, she’ll kill, we’ll kill together,
or we’ll kill each other,

so we won’t have to meander the wounded hallways alone, and poof!
the freckled doctor crooknecks
around the awkward curtain to repeat we are still waiting
on the enemy. We are still waiting, and I’m thinking

of my grandmother’s gurney
reversed into her living room, my family sardined in, the laughter
from the gargantuan rocketship of her body forever an echo, a memory, a distant rifle’s report
across a California valley, and I think of her garage to find jars

of gherkins, golf balls and elk jerky in, or a trucker’s hat collection
deer-antlered in the hallway,
think of following my father
outside, him telling me about her death under the plum tree, think of my sister

squatting next to the half-close-eyed body,
fingering the dead hand dreamily, sister I tell everyone is dead now,
and I remember believing
the body a lake and the life

a wind brushing across its face and then poof!
gone, my grandmother gone, the three-piece suits climbing out of a limo
like grey-haired groomsmen, coming to collect, the old oak, stained-glass front door closing,
my grandfather moaning

a sound so dark
it colored purple all the happiness
and Christmas-caroled-joy in the whole world, and a clock fell off the wall
the day my grandfather died himself (twenty days later nowhere near a hospital)

from being without his wife for twenty days, the day I would smash flat
all two-hundred-and-seven Shasta-cola cans in his garage with my sandals
in under forty-five minutes. If we could believe in God today in this hospital…
For a ten-second diagnosis, Ann and I have twisted seven hours through maybes

like mountain trails diffused by fog until her diagnosis is finally delivered,
Your cyst ruptured, painful, but it will fix itself, the diagnosis
we have waited all night for,
the fog coalescing into a cave, becoming real,

and we don’t have any questions in two seconds,
any questions in four, and when we can’t fathom any and the doctor shuttles out,
our questions
grow down from the ceiling,

solidify like stalactites, but the doctor has flown away
and can only be called down
with an appointment now, and I have begun to believe the doctor is a poet
in a clean room reading surprising poems

nobody understands, follow-up specialists, computers,
signatures, prescription-pill bottles. We have survived
the hospital.
Ann dresses in her gathered clothes and drifts

to the exit, and I with her, forgotten keys, forgetting the wallet, a few more
forgotten forms. Have you seen my cellphone? The sun rises procedural, melting
the parking lot ghosts down to black and white,
the roads, ready for travel, the engine sneezing

back to life, and still look what we have been given to consider:
today, blooming across Ann’s windshield, there are only two
lime parking tickets we must split the cost of, not colon cancer,
and one of us someday must die of a broken heart, but only one of us.

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A singer and guitar player, EPHRAIM SCOTT SOMMERS has performed music on flatbed trailers, in cafes, bars, strip clubs and cantinas on three different continents. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Copper Nickel, Cream City Review, Harpur Palate, The Journal, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, Verse Daily, Word Riot, and elsewhere. Ephraim currently teaches creative writing while a PhD candidate at Western Michigan University. You can find his music here.

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