Richard Widerkehr

Two December Mornings 

– a counselor on 4-South, Ira R. speaks

People Outside a Hospital by Frederick Cayley Robinson (from the series Acts of Mercy)

A door, then another door.  Low steps and cornices, the unfinished
half-Gothic, half-Roman cathedral.  Its obdurate stone face.
I must’ve noticed the morning light on redbrick buildings,

heard traffic noises on Amsterdam as I trudged down the street,
as my hands parted the air like a swimmer, as I passed through
the hospital’s sliding glass doors into the Emergency Room.

Hard to say how I’d come to rock in my blond-oak rocking chair,
obedient as a child in a trance, leafing through his dictionary.
Eyes closed, I hit on a word, as if making a bet.

I was making a bet. The word, hallelujah. Got to the E.R.
Now in the same porous light, clear sky, these thin wings,
pink-red fringes, almost translucent, a red-tailed hawk

floats over our road.  Tight spirals.  It’s hunting, I tell myself.
Did you take six or sixty? the male Hispanic nurse had asked.
So I came that close, no closer, strafed back into the paper robe

of my body.  Why tell you this? So you can see how
when this patient on our unit—she’d shot herself near her left eye—
she was crying, she was grateful, she was sorry, how she asked,

Does this mean I have to start all over?, how I said, Yes,
and then, Do you know why your life was saved?
How she clenched her fists, slowly, opened them,

gazed at her fingers, almost in wonderment, or maybe
trying to stay where she was, where we were,
how she shut her eyes, opened them, looked at me

and wept.  You have to understand, she said,
this isn’t who I am, it’s like you’re seeing
a skeleton of me.   Our dim hallway,

brightly-lit nurse’s station. The blood pressure cuff
beside us on the table, the Kleenex box.  Almost this hinge
in me, turning, as I wiped a tear from my eye

with my sleeve, handed her the box. That male nurse
who’d sat on my bed almost fifty years ago,
who visited me after he’d finished his shift,

after I woke from convulsions, how he told me
to pray for courage, and I didn’t. What are we, Lord?
In cold, roseate light, I watch the hawk.


About the writer:
Richard Widerkehr’s work has appeared in Rattle, Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, Arts & Letters, Atlanta Review; and others are forthcoming in Midwest Quarterly Review. He earned his M.A. from Columbia University and won two Hopwood first prizes for poetry at the University of Michigan. His most recent book is In The Presence Of Absence (MoonPath Press). He reads poems for Shark Reef Review.

Image: People Outside a Hospital (from the series Acts of Mercy) by Frederick Cayley Robinson (1862-1927). Oil on canvas. 78.19 x 133.27 inches. 1916. Public domain.