December 5, 2022

2022 Medical Humanities Section Writing Award Winner – Poetry Category

And Breathe
Elizabeth Mitchell, MD

And when you hear it, my tongue tapping the two D’s on
my palate with the little puff of air in between,
you come at me wild eyed and disbelieving.
I do not flinch as you pound on my chest with your
hands flat in a plea to God and to me that it is not true
that he is not dead that we didn’t try hard enough
that it isn’t him that we got it wrong that this can’t be

And while you hurl yourself around the room
possessed with unbearable grief we wait,
and then we walk, holding you up
through the waiting room gravely quiet
down one long hall, and then another,
until finally we are there. Somewhere
I hear laughter and I want it to stop
to shut out the sounds of the living.

And you draw a breath. I open up the doors and let you in
and you are gentle, reverential, asking him to wake
tapping him, caressing him, blowing on his face,
whispering in his ear, pushing back his hair

and then you are yelling at him to “wake up”
and I stand there and I wait and I breathe
and I try not to think about the time and the other patients
and you are rocking his head back and forth and back and forth
and you ask if you can blow into the tubing in his mouth
and you try to find him there in the sleeping dead man you love
and wake him, save him, “just one more night” you implore.
and finally it ends. But not for you. Never for you.
And you.

You go back to work. Then you go home.
You eat toast with butter and jam.
You drink scotch and take a shower.
You stand in the hot water and you breathe
and you shake and you cry
and then you stop. And you put it all away
and you give the dog a hug
and rub your hands upon her silky chest
and then you go to bed and sigh as you slip under the cool sheets
and you pray to god for sleep.

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