My mother’s idea of heaven was a pulse, nurses
in white spilling light across fields with hurricane
lamps, bandage rolls, syringes, pain killers,
stethoscopes, pressure cuffs, patella hammers.
Twice she almost died herself, and so knew heaven
was not the light moving toward her but the lights
over the operating table, those five blue spheres
a spaceship’s landing gear hovering above
such alien beings as we are. My mother’s idea
of heaven was a jar of peanut butter and saltine
crackers, a patient’s chart and a pot of tea, notes
scribbled in her elegant hand: more Morphine,
Cortizone, Alprazolam. It was a quorum of doctors
in an elevator going up, blood swabbed from the walls,
the smell of bleach following her to the next bed,
the next crisis, the next head she would cradle like
a baby, rubbing gravel from a wound with a
green soap sponge. Plastic gloves, IV stands,
pocket light, Iris scissors, forceps, thermometer,
and her gold Caduceus emblem pin, its coiled snakes
and disembodied wings. Her shoes of breathable
white leather, stain-resistant, slip-resistant, padded
collars, 4-ply pillow-top insole, their signature blue hearts.
Her heaven was smoking Kents while feeding crows
in the parking lot, The God of Sleep, twenty minutes
of uninterrupted unconsciousness, an abyssal cot
in the break room next to a broken ventilator, flat
on her back, her split-shift night-shift back, her spine
with its bolts and bent crossbars, its stripped screws
and bony overgrowths, fusions and cages and allografts.
She was a shaft of light in the inner workings, her touch
a tincture, a gauze dressing, a salve, a room-temp
saline bath. She microwaved blankets
to slide over the dead so when the ones
who loved them filed in to say goodbye,
the body felt warm under their hands.
From Only As the Day Is Long. Used with permission of W. W. Norton. Copyright 2018 by Dorianne Laux.