I ran down the emergency-room ramp,
holding Jon in one arm, pressing the cut
with the other, and passed through
the sliding glass doors into a narrow corridor
lined with Saturday-night gurneys and men
and one woman, all slumped or lying down
on the black and white checkered tile,
all clutching what seemed concussions
and stab wounds, clean entrances and exits
of small-caliber bullets, possible internal bleeding,
a ruptured spleen—makeshift triage beneath
triple-canopy jungle, the medevac chopper
throbbing overhead, running out of fuel.
The veteran resident on duty
assessed my son, then pointed
to our place against the wall.
Jon was eighteen months and tripped
and fell against the wide, oak arm
of our love seat, the cut above his left eyebrow
deep enough I had to apply pressure
to slow, then contain the bleeding
long enough to tape a bandage tight, pray
it would hold at least until I could slide through
stop signs and red lights, looking both ways,
honking the horn, hoping to attract
a police escort. I was young. Jon was my son.
I don’t know how else to say this—
It was grace I witnessed
as the man holding the bloody compress
to his abdomen spoke in Spanish
and motioned with his free arm
toward Jon and me, not daring to risk
such a gesture twice, and the woman
wailing, stopped long enough to say yes,
bring the child forward, and suddenly
there was with this host of the judged
and discarded, a movement like breath
over water, a rising of bodies
bowed and broken, the voice of the fallen,
for this moment forgiven and forgiving.
And the weary resident said then come on, hurry.
And I held Jon, and we walked past
the yellow-eyed wolf, her teeth closed
upon blood gurgling up from pierced organs;
past the old lion, his mane matted with
the grit of barren places, detritus of alleys;
past the bear, wasted insomniac, decaying
leper; past the blotchy leopard; the viper
prostrate and vulnerable, his words soft,
no longer savvy, for now, the syllables of mercy.
I will not shame them by claiming
they were angels unaware.
They were heaviness and mourning
and ashes. I will not say that beauty
rose up from them or that they poured out
the oil of joy. They deserve better.
Hope of the prophet with the live coal
of language blessing his tongue.
With Isaiah, I would call them holy,
redeemed, trees of righteousness
planted, I choose to believe,
beside the still, healing waters.
This poem was selected for Best of the Small Presses 2009.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.