Dana Levin is the author of Sky Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2011). She teaches at Santa Fe University of Art and Design and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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 a hole. In it 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, fluttering— 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, hurrying—white flaps, white wings— 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 spot-lit stage, loathe to enter, loathe to leave, is it terror, fascination, the angels too occupied to turn their gaze to you? Go down, go in. 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 enters, is extinguished, is this why you’ve come? The frigid cauldron that is life without a heart? I know, 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, 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 with ambivalence. 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 a body 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 of living, 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 you? 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, the light, 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.