Waiting for Charon in the ER

— Kelly Cressio-Moeller

Bad news is always arriving.
     — Adrienne Rich

Make a fist.
The ambulance ride
begins with a deep poke
into a surprised vein.
Open. Close. Time-lapse photography.
A lotus unfurling
petals in my palm. I see
sunlight breaking through crowns
of eucalyptus. I breathe oxygen
through a tube.

I’d recognize his face
anywhere: paramedic Gauguin,
Civilization is what makes you sick.
Is that why your Christs are yellow and green?
Yes, and blue trees.
What of the red door in the forest?
We are never out of the woods.

Gurneys glide gondola-quiet
through corridored canals.
An oarsman ferries me
into an X-ray room,
his shark tooth bracelet clangs
against the metal buoy.
I want to dive into
his seafoam scrubs,
breaststroke into March.

The doctor orders a rainbow
belt of slender vials.
She pockets my blood
in her jungle print top, swings
on a vine, disappears into
Rousseau’s foliage. I don’t
see her again for 2 hours.
She’s consulted the gorilla
who was sitting on my chest.
I eat red Jell-o with a spork.

Time drifts through saline solution.
A slow drip counts the day’s small hours.
I have the room to myself.
So tempting just
to lie there waiting, stock-still
with a coin in my mouth.


Note: “Civilization is what makes you sick.” is a quote from Paul Gauguin.
First published in Rattle: Issue 35, Summer 2011

One thought on “Waiting for Charon in the ER

  1. Kelly, I love the hallucinatory, dissociated feel of this poem, as if everything is seen through a haze of painkillers and the glare of hospital lights. Thoughts diverge before completion; disembodied images come and go, and the real world and the mythic world come together. Strange and eerie–this is beautiful stuff!

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