No figures here but pulse, breath and pressure;
no metonymy of fate but a real hand
cold upon a real sheet.
What could any actor speak more piercing
than this: the dull passage of the day, steady
in its silent leaking through a valve,
passing without acknowledgement,
without an eye-blink or a wave,
just the constant beeping, the mechanics
of death in a noisy room
seven stages above the street
with its rooms full of obdurate facts
where life once made its living.
Click here to read Michael Salcman on the origin of the poem.
Photo: Delivery Room. Licensed under CC 2.0
poetry often do, saying one thing and meaning another (Frost’s definition of metaphor),
with the harrowing reality of severe illness and modern medicine. This is a recurring
theme in my work and the original title of Intensive Care was the more didactic An End
to Poetical Devices. There are published poems of mine simply titled Metonymy: Part for
the Whole, and Metaphor, that made their way into my books. The first half of the poem
written almost eight years ago simply rolled out without much difficulty; nevertheless,
the poem was rejected many times. It went into a loose leaf that functions as my
“drawer.” Recently I began writing a series of poems on the coronavirus pandemic as a
sort of diary and decided to take another look at Intensive Care. The bottom forty percent
was too didactic and Pangyrus was willing to take the poem after surgical removal of
almost the bottom fifty percent. Sometimes a poem needs to be more compact in order to
increase its rhythmic and emotional power. Almost all early drafts of one-page poems are
two to four lines longer than they should be; the factual information unrolled at the start
of a poem doesn’t need to be explained at its conclusion. The scene set at the start is
based on my recently concluded fifty year experience as a practicing neurosurgeon and a
courtesy visit I made to a friend in a tall New York hospital. All of my other Plague
Poems are completely new but Intensive Care, once an old poem, became suddenly new
through radical amputation.