Poetry Musings

Tom Absher

Once my draft board finally agreed to grant me my status as a conscientious objector, I then began looking for
work (from the government's approved list) to fulfill my "alternative service."  I found such
work as an orderly at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.  I found the work ironic in its own way.  I
was making a protest against killing and ended up (it was a main job for the orderlies at the Beth
Israel) tending the deceased patients, i.e. preparing bodies for the morgue, then transporting them
to the morgue.  We worked all over the hospital and it was - for me - an education in ultimates. In that
big city hospital I checked my philosophy books at the door. This poem is one among many I have
written about my work there.

Patient Murray, female

In Recovery off the O.R.,
where patients regained consciousness
in beds with wheels, festooned
by I.V. poles, tubes, and life-support gear,
a woman in her sixties
came out of the cloud of anesthesia.

She opened her eyes,
breathing hard, one breath
to the next, to the next,
as if she were numbering them -
and then she exhaled in a sigh,
her eyes rolling back
showing the whites like moons.

A nurse spoke:  "Patient Murray went out" -
then nurses and interns began
disconnecting the metal trees
canopying her bed, preparing it
for another's use.

Such speed, such efficiency.

I was new at this,  I thought
something such have been done
at her death, some courtesy,
some grace, a pause, maybe
a prayer - so her soul,
its long work completed,
could make its way out
of the body, slowly, with dignity,
like an elder.

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