Did that really happen?


Writing is so much about remembering. Or more accurately, re-feeling. But sometimes when I’m going over my past, working on a poem, I think, “Did I just make this all up?” Like it’s some story I told and somehow the world believed it and it turned into memories. 

1983 July 4 

52nd Street. The abuelos play dominos on a TV tray/Boombox tuned to Spanish music/Little boys tumble in the fire hydrant spray/On this hot afternoon black-cat smoke up to my knees./We have a stat transfer. St. Clare’s ICU to Bellevue. Critical./Could there be a place grimmer than the St. Clare’s CCU?

Yes. Directly across the hall/The ICU lacks even flimsy privacy curtains/And is stuffed full of neurological casualties. There’s no staff./The place where the doctors and nurses sit/Surrounded by plexiglass similar to the bulletproof enclosure at a liquor store/Is over yonder. In CCU.

Our transfer is on a respirator, surrounded by a tangle of wires and tubing./I look at his chart. From what I can make out he was on the floor/Crashed, and got rushed to ICU./His blood pressure is being maintained with drugs./He has uncontrollable arrythmias./He must be transferred to Bellevue as soon as possible.

                        from BrokeDown Palace


I know this call really happened. But it seems so absurd. How could there have been an ICU where the medical staff is across the hall behind two closed doors? Maybe it was only that way on holidays. The other strange thing about that day was there was only one doctor covering the ICU, CCU, and all the floors, so they didn’t have anyone to ride with us. I know it wasn’t like that usually. But my friend Bonnie went to visit the AIDS ward with a group of singles one afternoon in the early 1990s and they never saw any medical people. She said the entire place seemed to be run by guys in hospital gowns who were smoking, drinking beer, and playing poker.