Bargaining At My Husband’s Bedside, Coronary Step Down Unit, 2002

By Jeanne Bryner

“So we move another summer closer                                                                                              to our last summer together—“ --Linda Pastan 
Your groin’s bruise, purple like mother’s iris.
They bloom in June just for your birthday,
she lied to the girl I was.

The fair’s gone; we can’t be eighteen again.
There’s a bell to ring, but no sledge
for your pale hands. Past ten, timid doctors
round, miss sleepy bullets of family queries.

Rooms smelling of brine await us all and
wheelchairs stained with mud. A door thuds,
curtains slide, we become the machines’
blank-eyed stare
taste IV salt, fear rising like gall.

I love night’s nurses best, how they wear
blankets like shawls. Coffee not sleep,
I count beeps, floor tiles, dots of cars
inching out and in hospital lots.
Headlights twirl, wink like fireflies.

Jeeps, sedans, SUVs creep along,
like you and me
they find their place in line. In here,
outside, there’s no rest. Folks just drive
they go away to circle blocks, eyes
glazed, every breath erased
sealed under glass. You are the lion

I am not. I trembled when death
buried his face in my hair.
Let’s make a deal . . .
Last night, he whispered, stroked my neck
On your back, what’s one more scar?

Now, who’s afraid to sit down, fall asleep?
Come morning, I will ask the old nun
wheezing, wringing her prayer cloth
pacing room-to-room
what yarn was spun--before and after--
I let his tongue enter my mouth.

Jeanne Bryner’s family was part of Appalachia’s outmigration. A retired board certified emergency room nurse, she’s a graduate of Trumbull Memorial Hospital School of Nursing and Kent State University’s Honors College. She has received awards for nursing, community service, writing fellowships from Bucknell, the Ohio Arts Council (’97, ’07), and Vermont Studio Center.  She lives near a dairy farm with her husband.