Nights of 1990
“The sweatings and the fevers stop, the throat that was unsound is sound, the lungs of the consumptive are resumed…”
-Walt Whitman, “The Sleepers”
his body was taking with it: for instance, the space where
I was standing, the dazed fluorescence of his hospital room
where each night I watched him sleep. So this
is the spine, I thought, this articulation
of vertebral tumors, this rope of bulbous knots;
tissue, I thought, as I studied his yellowing skin—
tissue, like something that could tear.
Afterward, I waited in the corridor.
When I came back, he was alive and breathing.
Here, let me rub your back, I said.
Was it true what I’d heard, that the soul resides in breath?
Was it true the body was mere transport? I untied
the white strings that secured his pale blue
hospital gown. The blue gown drifted
from his shoulders. I rubbed his back.
I rubbed his back. Not so hard,
he said. I don’t need to be burnished yet.
Excerpt from “Nights of 1990” from Ghost Letters (1994), used by permission.
Richard McCann is the author, most recently, of Mother of Sorrows, an award-winning collection of linked stories that Michael Cunningham has described as "almost unbearably beautiful." He is also the author of Things Shaped in Passing: More 'Poets for Life' Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. His work has appeared in such magazines as The
McCann will be featured at Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness,
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