In the moment between
the old heart and the new
two angels gather at the empty chest.
The doctors flow over them as winds, as blurs, unnoticed but as currents
around this body, the flesh of the chest peeled back
as petals, revealing
the layers are fluttering—the back muscle, the bone, the chrome
of the table,
the tiled floor with its spatters of blood—
—fluttering as veils over the solid,
The angels, gathering. Small, and untroubled, perched quietly
on the rib-cage, its cupped hands trying
to keep in.
Around them the hands of the doctors,
the clicks and whirrs of the lung machine…
Do you want it to be stars, do you want it to be a hole to heaven,
clean and round—
Do you want their hands, dipping and dipping, flesh sticking like jelly
to the tips of their gloves—
Hovering at the edge of this
loathe to enter, loathe to leave, is it terror,
the angels too occupied to turn their gaze to you?
The angels perch on either side of the hole like handles
round a grail.
The bleeding tissues part, underneath the solid shimmers
black, like a pool.
The lights above the table enter and extinguish,
the light of your face
is this why you’ve come? The frigid cauldron
that is life without a heart?
I'm tired of the battle too, the visible and invisible clashing together,
the hands with the scalpels
flashing and glinting like flags and standards,
fighting to the death—
When they cut you down the middle you fled.
The angels descended.
You came up here with me,
with the voiceless
thousands at the edge of the curtain, hearts beating
Do you know if you want it? Is that jumble of spit and bone
so worth it
that you would go down again and be
raging with loss, each beat of the heart
like the strike of a hammer,
spiking the nails in, to feel, to feel—
I learned this from you, Father, all my life
I've felt your resign to the hurt
so I came up here, to the scaffolding above
the surgical theatre
to watch you decide.
Can you go on with this mortal vision? To the sword rearing up now
in orange fire, the angels turning
to face you poised at the hole's
brink, their eyes in flames, in sprays of blood
their wings beating
against the steel wedge prying open the rib cage, is it
for you? Are they protecting
But you bend down, you look in, you dip in
a finger, Father,
you bring it to your mouth and you taste it,
and I can feel the cold that is black on my tongue, it is bitter,
it is numbing,
snuffing the heart out, the heat,
and when will they lift the new heart like a lamp—
and will you wait—
the doctors pausing with their knives uplifted, the rush of wings
stirring a wind—
|From In the Surgical Theatre by Dana Levin, published by the American Poetry Review. Copyright © 1999 by Dana Levin. Reprinted with permission of the American Poetry Review.|