Memorial Sloane Kettering, 2007
9:30. Upper East Side. A neighborhood
I hadn’t walked in in years,
though a group of my peers loiter outside
some with cigarettes,
some with cell phones,
some unwrapping the cellophane from a sandwich
—just a little more litter for the world—
before slumping against the cement foundation
strung out from work & witness.
My coffee exhales into morning light
smelling of Columbia, of Arabica.
This could have been the velvet line
waiting for some club to open its doors
a decade back, in our decadent, care-free twenties,
but I recognize no one
& no one checks my ID in the lobby.
No one shouts & pushes
to get up front. The alcohol scent astringent.
The elevator is a small cell of sadness
in its ascension. It stops with a chippy ping
so out of place when its doors open
to the fifth floor children’s ward:
I glimpse only the bald heads, emaciated
frames of 7-year-olds, & one father’s
swollen, unshaven face, like
illuminations from some forlorn copy of the Inferno,
one monks refused to copy, but no,
this is still Manhattan & the man beside me
no Virgil, just a stranger with the familiar
visage of the bereaved, eyes to the floor.
The flowers seem to wilt in my fist as we rise
to the head & neck ward
where a few patients walk with IV carts in tow,
circling the elevator bay & nurses’ station,
where someone is sobbing behind a drawn curtain,
where my mother has slept these last three nights.
Gerry LaFemina is the author of numerous collections of poetry, fiction, and criticism. In 2022 he’ll have two new books released: The Pursuit: A Meditation on Happiness (creative nonfiction) and The American Ruse (poems). He is a Professor of English at Frostburg State University, serves as a mentor in Carlow University’s MFA program, is a Fulbright specialist in Writing and American Culture, and fronts the punk rock band The Downstrokes.