Poem of Mercy
No one poem is enough. No
one poem contains the mercy
I seek, the forgiveness. There are no
words that can approach
the tufts of fine black hair
on the backs of doctor’s hands
as he dialed my home that night
from one of the side rooms,
then choked, looking out into the hallway
at the blood-drenched gurneys,
then handed me the phone
as if to say, “You tell them.
Tell them what you saw. What happened,”
as if only a son could utter
the words that would burn
in a father’s ear that night.
Please, a mercy for the doctor.
His courage failed him.
He could not look at me again that night.
And mercy too to the others
who dialed, who fell back
onto their simple faiths, their jobs,
and spoke what few words they knew.
Have mercy: on the dialers, the phones.
Have mercy on the words they used.
And mercy too to the nurses,
the ones who ran down flights
of stairs, only to stare and weep.
Please, a mercy on the quickness
of their gasps. Have mercy too
on the instruments that were used,
what the doctors touched flesh with
and then removed. The coarse towels
and linens. The scalpels, clamps.
The numerous sponges. Have
mercy on the sutures that were never used.
Have mercy too on the light
in the room which was man-made
and all around us in banks.
Have mercy on the denotations
in the bulbs. I think forgiveness
can go this far: to the coffee cup
spiked with pencils, to the navy blue pens,
to the clipboards and spiral notebooks,
to the engraved plastic tags the nurses
and doctors wore like ribbons.
So too to the loose bolt in the rail
on the gurney. To the gurney’s one
skewed wheel. Mercy too to the tear
in the mattress, the one
which had become partially untaped
and through which I ran my middle finger
into the matting just to feel it.
Mercy too to the cold medallion they used
to gauge the whip-like action
of the veins in my chest. Mercy
to the pinpoint dots of light.
To the delicate rubber loops
that hung from the suspended bottles.
Even to the dust and bits of windshield glass,
the pieces of the car that had infused me,
a mercy. Mercy to my pant cuffs
and bloodied jacket. To the scissors
because they felt they had to cut away these clothes.
Mercy, therefore, particularly to the scissors.
To the aluminum rods ringed
with curtains, even to the clock
on the wall. My parents finally arriving–
and the curtains yanked–
an opaque sheerness that hid us–
the three of us staring at one another
with the embarrassment of survivors.
Finally, mercy to the bitterness of that sound.
Dennis Hinrichsen is the author of eight previous books of poetry. His most recent are Rip-tooth (2010 Tampa Poetry Prize) and Kurosawa’s Dog (2008 FIELD Poetry Prize). An earlier work, Detail from The Garden of Earthly Delights, was awarded the 1999 Akron Poetry Prize. New work of his can be found in The Adroit Journal , Fogged Clarity , Four Way Review , Ghost Town , Memorious , Michigan Quarterly , museum of americana , Radar , and Best of the Net 2014 , as well as the anthology POETRY IN MICHIGAN / MICHIGAN IN POETRY from New Issues Press. Hinrichsen lives in Lansing, Michigan