“The Healing Profession”
Photograph by Stockbyte.
The nurses and orderlies from the hospital
come into the coffee-shop in their blue and green scrubs
with their ID cards on cords around their necks.
They stand in line for their lattes and iced coffee,
checking their phones,
faces bathed in a light cocktail
of piano music and air conditioning.
I thought I was destined to spend all my days
trying to get women to take off their clothes
or to win an award for the underachievement
of half-formulated goals
but it turns out my vocation was to see
just a few scenes that are presented to me:
the intern whose stethoscope is slung like a necktie
over her left shoulder;
the surgical aide
who hides her bad teeth with one hand.
There is an air that quietly adheres to them
which comes from the ethical work
of laying hands on the distressed,
so simply to watch them is touching-
simply to observe their flat-soled practical shoes
and casual, resilient mouths
making the shapes of “Muh” and “Oh”
“Kuh” for Cardiomyopathy. It is as if,
having squandered one life,
I was erased and given another
in which I am allowed to be
the green starched cuff on the orderly’s uniform,
tight on his light brown wrist,
and how his long, competent fingers
hold the paper cup of Brazilian decaf
into which a lot of milk
and zero calorie sugar has been stirred.
Tony Hoagland's most recent book of poems is What Narcissism Means to Me.