In the ICU
My sister has: diabetes, COVID, pneumonia, a staph infection.
She has been intubated, then sedated and paralyzed
so she doesn’t disturb
the wires and tubes attached to her.
She is behind the glass door,
and we—husband, children, sister—
are forbidden to go inside.
We can’t touch her.
And even though she wouldn’t know if we did,
we want to.
We peer in like new parents outside the hospital nursery
trying to identify which baby is ours.
Ah. There she is, swaddled in her burn blanket,
lying prone to ease her breath.
Or, if not the proud parents, we are the proverbial kids,
noses pressed against the window of the candy shop.
My sister the sweet treat we cannot afford.
Deciding she should die opened doors—
the glass doors of the ICU keeping us from her.
Another doctor came to reassure we made the right choice.
The rabbi bestowed a spiritual stamp of approval.
We signed releases,
suited up in green polypropylene gowns,
purple nitrile gloves, our very best masks.
We knew the risks of going in,
but not the risk of seeing her like that.
Skin swollen, her beautiful hands puffed up.
Lips parched, eyes ointmented shut.
Face red and peeling as if she’d been out in the sun,
but in that place there was little light.
The monitors were silenced,
the slimy alien horror of breathing tube
extracted from deep in her throat.
She took one, two, three breaths.
None of us looked at each other,
inadequate to the moment.
We waited til the doctor came in
to search for no heartbeat,
then marched slowly out as mourners,
tearing off the gowns as if rending our garments.
The gloves came away with them.
I thought—how efficient.
Years before at the pet hospital putting down the cat
it occurred to me that this was preparation,
a rehearsal just in case.
The cat had stopped eating, drinking,
Hid under a chair. Was not itself.
Sometimes death is the right decision.
Sometimes you have to live with that.
We take the trail carved in volcanic tuff,
climbing toward the site
of an ancient pueblo
until we’re blocked by rocks,
the rubble of ruined homes,
and I can’t make it past.
The others go on.
I sit on a boulder, wait
among the Jemez Mountains,
the Sangre de Cristo.
Juniper pines scent the air.
The only sound the droning of a bee.
The sun picks out each fleck of mica
sparkling in the stones.
I am alone.
I am the only person in the world.
No one is coming back for me
because there is no one else.
The Anasazi lived here long ago,
but now there are no people.
Such a word doesn’t exist.
I am not human. I do not breathe.
Not dead, but alive only
as the things that live here.
The mesa welcomes me as one of its own.
I am rock, bee, sun, sand, saltbrush, tree.
I have been here forever.
I am the stillness.
And the earth stops turning.
That summer, and for all those summers, we gathered each night
outside our apartment houses, leaned against cars and each other.
We wore short shorts, cut offs, headbands, fading madras, Keds.
It was hot those nights. The air smelled of sweat and dog shit steamed in the sun.
Still, we wanted touch, to entwine ourselves. What we wanted we couldn’t quite name—
thought it was boyfriend, girlfriend, kiss, holding hands, arm around the waist,
having someone, being chosen. I Wanna Love Him So Bad
We were 13, then 14, 15, 16, our homes chock-a-block on Rochambeau,
DeKalb, Gun Hill Road—and never thought of the war their names came from.
Our parents knew each other. They were first or second generation,
they sat together on beach chairs in the vacant lot. We heard their murmurs and laughter,
saw the red glow of the tips of their cigarettes in the dark. We were safe.
They thought they knew us. Where we were. They wanted us to be educated,
we who knew only one thing about the world—that each other lived there.
Sandy, Sonia, Annette, Joan, Norm, Phil, Peter, Lee. The gang.
We knew nothing about the war (Lee would be drafted.) Soldier Boy
We stayed for hours. What could we have talked about, so ignorant?
Didn’t even know who we were except when we were together, merged.
How could I think I was ever alone? Those summers I was eight other people.
I have the black and white Kodaks to prove it, their scalloped edges.
We ceased to exist when we went inside at 9,
reanimated like sea monkeys in the morning in each other’s company.
We were silly, jealous, devoted, chose randomly, went from one to the other, the radio
playing in our heads—it was all broken-hearted love, thrilling love,
desperate love. The pain of it. It was what we lived for. I Can’t Help Myself
We had no parents, no history, no home except one another.
The songs led us astray, but we kept following.
Avra Wing’s poetry appeared most recently in Constellations, The American Journal of Poetry, The Hollins Critic, and Cimarron Review, and is upcoming in I-70 Review. She is the author of two novels, Angie, I Says, a New York Times “notable book” made into the movie “Angie, and After Isaac for young adults. Avra leads a NY Writers Coalition workshop at the Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York. She can be found at www.avrawing.com