Carolee Sherwood


for J.

The person who saved me wasn’t a doctor.
He was a conductor from a local railroad, who broke
rules about patients touching,
cupped my elbow in his hand (our secret
body language: breathe), wrapped
an arm around my shoulder
on my most difficult day, nodded toward staff,
whispered to me, “Fuck ‘em.
I don’t give a shit.”

We lounge in the TV room late at night
refusing evening meds. He sits with palms
pressed against his forehead, weeps. In group
he says he can’t bring himself to work,
the stress of the schedule, the memories
of a man lying on the tracks,
his knowledge about the impossible
momentum of freight cars. He can’t stop
pacing. More than the holes he punches in the walls,
more than the chairs he kicks over, the pacing
bothers his wife most. She’s never seen him cry.

I think of him when I see graffiti-covered boxcars,
rusty engines tugging them behind. I wonder
if he’s in there, hand on the levers,
ready with the brake, if he ever struck
his wife, if he left the hospital and patched holes
or parked his truck on the crossing,
wishing he could trade places with the man who died,
switch bodies, exchange lives
or deaths, a fast one for a slow one.

Carolee Sherwood is a painter, mixed-media artist and poet, whose poetry has been published in a number of print and online journals. She co-manages the online poetry project "Big Tent Poetry" and contributes to "Voice Alpha," a blog about reading poetry for an audience.

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