THE MYTH OF ORPHEUS
And I came to in a room with a draft
that issued from beneath a swinging door,
my head plugged up like a sink stuffed
with months of shed hair,
shaving stubble, other things
that thought to disappear.
And the covers were bunched
at my waist like a marble effigy
of Christ newly sprung from the cross,
unveiling an inch of midriff,
my navel, which in the hospital light
looked like a wound from a hollow-point.
And the old man in a nearby bed
kept dying. The monitor would shriek
its air-raid warning and he would die
and come back. That was his trick.
He did it and did it. The slap-slap
of the nurses’ soles was deliberate
applause. Then he left for good.
My wife said that when I was dead,
or during my death, she paced the garden
with my jacket on, cupping votive flames
to cigarettes. She killed each
match with a flick of her wrist,
then laid the burnt corpses to rest
in a packet scored with scratches
from matchstick heads that sought
to light the way, and did, and died.
Tendrils of smoke grew into the sky
as vines climbing from tomblike shade.
She stood, then, and helped me to my feet,
led me down the corridor
to find a cup of tea—past an orderly
who wheeled an assemblage
of bed, old woman, and IV—
not looking back to see if I was there.
From Earth and Heaven: An Anthology of Myth Poetry (eds. Amanda Jernigan and Evan Jones, Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2015) by Mark Callanan.