When she came to visit me, I turned my face to the wall—
though only that morning, I'd bent my head at the bell
and with the host on my tongue, mumbled thanks.
Cranked up, then down in my bed—
I told the nurses jokes,
newly precocious, but too old
at twelve to be anything
but a patient. I slouched in my robe
among the other child-guests of St. Joseph,
the parrot-eyed scald masks,
the waterheads and harelips,
the fat girl with the plastic shunt.
The old crippled nun on her wheeled
platform dispensed her half-witted blessings,
then was gone like the occasional covered gurneys
sliding by my numbered door. Gone
told me I'd go away too—
orderly as dusk in the brick courtyard:
the blank windows curtained one by one.
I could not abide that yearning face
calling me home. Like the Gauls,
in my penciled translations: I saw
Caesar was my home. Through the streets
of the occupied city, his gold mask rose, implacable.
In the fervent improvisational style of the collaborator—
I imagined pain not as pain
but the flickering light embedded
in the headboard, the end
of the snake-wire uncoiling from
the nurses' station. The painkiller winked
in its paper cup, its bleak chirp
meant respect should be paid
for the way I too wielded oblivion,
staring at the wall till six,
gifts unopened in her lap,
the early dark deepening between us.