by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - March 26, 2007)
After the morphine, the codeine, or the OxyContin wears off
his grim face returns; teeth clench, eyes squeeze shut, muscles go rigid
and my son repeats and repeats, "I feel like I'm dying; I want out, I want out."
Finally the nurse answers the call, inserts the needle effortlessly
and jacks him up again; he begins to calm, his face begins to pale
back from the ruddy anger of too much, too much and into sleep,
then we roll him on his side to inspect the source: a six-inch incision
along his spine, beneath, steel rods now support his fused vertebrae.
When he wakes, he is manic and hungry; talking in blue streaks,
his normal face returns: teeth unclench, eyes open bright, muscles go liquid
and my son repeats and repeats, "I love you mom, dad; thank you; thank you."
Finally I am strong again, and my replies come effortlessly
and when I bolster him up, he begins to ask where, why, what happened;
so again we recount the accident, the smashed car, her death, his surgery,
then pray he will remember this time, remember the source: six friends
along for the joy ride, beneath crumpled steel lost now their invulnerability.
Then the pain hits again; the denial and the regrets subside finally;
suddenly their childhood faces return: we smile, tears well, legs go limp.
Both joy and sorrow mingling, both the bitter and the sweet emotions
overpower us like the smell of flowers at the hospital or the funeral.
When composure comes again, we try to maintain a semblance
of normality to fuse the family back together, to rehabilitate the heart
grown weary with physical therapy, overwrought by joy and relief.
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