Critical Care

She could be a puppet, blue strings trailing
from the backs of her hands, her index finger,
her nose, her mouth, even her crotch,

but her wrists are strapped to the metal
bed rails, also her ankles, and white tape
covers her mouth like a burglar's gag

keeping the respirator tube in place.
If she could see herself like this, splayed out
under a thin sheet surrounded

by shower curtains and stainless steel
and everything on wheels, she might laugh.
But she is thinking now of learning to swim

in a slow, dirty river, remembering
how her brother dared her to dive
between his legs, and when she did,

how he clenched her head with his knees
and held her there thrashing,
hitting at him through the water

until there were knives in her lungs.
It's cold here. She can't speak
or feel or move a finger.

She can't even open her eyes. A voice
tells her morphine, a voice says curare.
It says don't worry. It will wear off soon.

This is all so normal for them—
they strap people down and knock people out
and string people up like this

every day. They do it to save them.
The woman waits. She thinks
she has forgotten how to breathe. She hears

someone gasping from a bed
behind the curtain—loud, clumsy breaths
far apart, the strange deep brand of breathing

that the dying do—as if to prove
they can still do it, as if the air itself
might shake them back to life.