FOR A FRIEND WHO LOOKS OUT HOSPITAL WINDOWS
The long sunsets at this time of year are not lost on you,
Or the thick green of treetops, though from up there it might
Be hard to tell which are oaks and which are beech. Some canopies
Cover the sidewalks and stretch across the narrow street, the intersection
With its freshly painted lines. Far away, a view of the river may slide
Between buildings, the pilings of a bridge, the barge passing quickly—
It makes you think of Whitman until a speaker somewhere pages
A doctor whose name might be important. Nurses are checking vitals,
Asking patients for date of birth. You’ve written about the smell
Of the hallways, taken pictures of the light reflecting off the floors, metal fixtures.
No one who doesn’t work here should know such a place so well, should
Recognize the sound of a lunch cart or the low hiss of the air conditioning at
Night when it’s quiet. You didn’t ask for that knowledge. No one does.
Even though they’re all trying to help, even though the building
Itself is purposed for saving lives, pulling people back whose bodies have
Already resigned themselves to an emptiness where words
Stop meaning anything, where eyelids are almost still, even though
You’re grateful for the monitors and tubes, the attention of nurses, the rubbery
Squeak of their shoes before they knock and open the door, grateful for the charts,
Thermometers, and felt-tip markers that are proof of life, of the possibility
Of a return to a time when you could believe that everyone you loved
Was immortal, that each nonsensical moment was separate, eternal—
A series of photographs hung on a white immaculate wall, music you heard
Driving here, songs linked to cities where you lived or worked,
To the kind of arguments you had with friends as a kid, about drummers or
Guitarists, about what made the chili so good at one café or the peach pie at another—
Even though this is all true, even though memory and prayer might
Be the same thing, the fluorescent light above the bed refuses to accept it.
The obscure color of the bathroom tiles (brown, beige, pink, that stupid
Crayon color that used to be called flesh) says no, says there is only this world:
Styrofoam cups and crushed ice, medication schedules and paper towels.
That’s when you look out the window again, even if it’s dark and you can
Only see streetlights and the moon setting behind a hillside. Memory
Weighs more than Styrofoam, more than an IV tube or an ugly blanket.
Each breath has happened and can’t be undone by the body’s fatigue, by
A faltering heart. Stevens was right, despite working for that insurance company.
Trust the “violence from within that protects us from a violence without,”
Believe it protects against the smell of disinfectant and the static view
From hospital windows, from the cautious diction of prognosis, the weak coffee
And powdered creamer you bring back from the cafeteria, from the pale light
Of your cellphone as you read in the dark. Push back against it all, and don’t
Worry about what’s true and what’s imagined. The brief touch of fingers,
Remembered scent of hair or skin, the light that sloped through the window
In the morning on a weekend are a liturgy, repeated and real. Memory
And prayer are the same thing. Each breath happened and goes on happening.
Light from the window illuminates the uncomfortable chair, the blanket.
George Franklin is the author of four poetry collections: Noise of the World, Traveling for No
Good Reason, Among the Ruins / Entre las ruinas, and a chapbook, Travels of the Angel of
Sorrow. Individual publications include: Matter, Cagibi, Into the Void, Sequestrum, The
Threepenny Review, Verse Daily, and The American Journal of Poetry. He practices law in
Miami, teaches poetry workshops in Florida prisons, and co-translated, along with the
author, Ximena Gómez’s Último día/Last Day. His new collection, Remote Cities, is
forthcoming this fall from Sheila-Na-Gig Editions. Website: https://gsfranklin.com/