It is the Fourth of July. The first time
On call, I’m reading
In the hospital.
Outside, lightning bugs, tiny princes
Of the night, are chased and jailed
In the stale glass of pickle jars.
Their captors: obstreperous children
Who disdain time, their parents
Drinking wine on nestled porches.
Smoking snakes, captains of the grounded earth,
Odoriferous, stain the sidewalks
With their burning black blood.
In here something singes
Beneath the skin, unfastening fascia,
Charring the muscle within.
I’m not even sick. I’m charged
with the care of the sick. On call.
Does that make me sick? Training
To be a doctor, more and more, and less and less
Me. I’m losing
Complexity, learning to dissect it
Objectively. I won’t accpet it. Suddenly
My pager shrieks like a bottle rocket.
I want to swallow
This beautiful night before it’s gone,
Taste it, aspirate, digest it. Keep it
Because it is not mine. Don’t answer it.
No one needs
Me. I’ve given up
Life, what’s mine, to night. No one
Around, no phone, I walk
Past a window and briefly smile, like before
I release the ridiculous questions it seems
My patients hate. I notice
The window is a frame. I am in a museum.
The sky is dilated like god’s pupil,
Reacting to the light, an electric cerebrum
Of color mushrooming from some canvas
As deep and distant as Dali’s
Somewhere in Spain, Florida, even
Soem part of my brain.
I watch — in vain, in vain, in vain —
My pager discharges once again.
Some vacation, this fourth –
Degree of separation, this watching
Behind glass, this quiet
Listening-now-to the sound of breating in
A feverish ER. That done, this
Standing along the wall, peripheral,
Waiting for a trauma,
Waiting for the transfusion of someone’s
By the theoretical IV line into Galen’s vein:
Emotion transmuted into sane
Cognition: medicine’s mission.
It is three-thirty. No screaming. Do I need
Sleep? Do I need any
Substratal parts of me? No one needs
Me now. I run
To the call room. Before collapsing
Like the last shot of the last Roman candle,
Well-past curfew, I commit
Berryman to my locker. Over the next year,
I forget he was ever there.