With the hospital machines unplugged,
the room felt startlingly quiet. I kept watching
the monitor, waiting for the flatline.
How strange, I thought, to be
watching death plot its course
across a small black screen, the body
surprisingly stoic, systemic even in failure.
Systole. Diastole. The organs
shuttering themselves in orderly
fashion. One by one by one.
Forty years ago, he kept company
with the corpses of flowers, took
night shifts in the back of a florist shop
where cold cases buzzed around him
and the musk of wet foliage clouded
his brain. Manhattan was having
a heat wave, and all night, he’d sweat
and stare at the chilled arrangements,
the plants’ stems stented to take up water,
stiff in their cage of refrigerated glass.
When he dozed, he imagined
reaching through those transparent doors,
plunging his whole arm in as if through a sheet
of water. He dreamt of Iowa rivers then.
Of their rapids and forested banks,
the wet lick of cool undergrowth,
plant matter kissing his arms as he walked:
leather-tongued tangles of rose briars,
damp-stippled fingers of ferns.
Systole. Diastole. The nights breathed on
like a sock stretched over his mouth.
At times, he held one hand to the
doors, felt the cool relief prickle over his skin.
One evening, he could stand it no longer.
Better, he thought, to live than fry.
He got out of bed
and opened all of the doors.