Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ward Seven

There’s one in Chekhov,
who was never in Seattle,
nor was Bobby ever in Russia.
Besides it’s Ward Six there.
Now Bobby is a floor higher.

He eats in the florescent room
where the Chinese lady sees
to his needs, fork, knife, spoon,
plate full of hospital food.
She watches him eat and smiles.
When he’s done she disappears.
The orderly takes him to a room
where nurses take his vitals
and a vial of blood. The door
is closed. He lies on the bed
looking out the window.
There’s a radio tower,
he thinks of France,
where he’s never been.
A red light flashes at the top
of the tower. One word, Alain,
comes into mind
and stays.

He senses the door is locked.
It’s dark. He does not care.
Waking, he does not try the door.
When he hears the key he knows.
Dark turns into day,
the door opens. He’s free to go
back to the florescent room.
The Chinese lady does as she did
before, and he follows suit.

When he goes out the door
to stay, he looks it up, Alain.
He rifles through the stacks
until he finds the photograph
of Simone Weil with her teacher
Emile Chartier, whose pen name
was Alain. He recalls the image
he saw looking straight out
to see inside the mind’s eye
a girl sitting at a man’s feet.
The mind is never as reliable
as a library. Here they are,
the young Simone and Alain,
the philosopher, sitting side
by side in a plate covered
with a thin paper but fading
in a dusty book unopened
how long there’s no way to know.
No sun reaches as far as here.

He had never heard of Simone Weil
or known of Alain until now,
the girl who worked in a factory
to be one among the workers,
or her teacher, neither one
of whom he will read
until he’s old, if he ever is.
He is. Who else would
say this at seventy-three?
By now he’s read some
of what he did not know
existed then. He was ill,
the doctors said, one at a time
until he admitted he feared
shock treatments, though they
assured him he had no need to fear
what would never happen.
There were other things
to know, or remember.
You did not starve to death
to stop a war, to change modes
of cruelty into human justice.
Pity Alain’s brilliant student
whose dying did not deliver
Europe from its bloodbath.
She withers into nothingness,
where once she was blessed
with delicate beauty, as are
all saints. Bobby knows nothing
of saints. Not at twenty one
fifty two years ago.

(2 February 2012)

copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander

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