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the night nurses chain-smoke outside of cape cod hospital,

drink their coffee from styrofoam dixie cups,

and pick lint off their pastel scrubs during break.

they live cross-legged on the stone wall by the emergency

exit, killing kindling cigarette butts in a communal ashtray.

inside we are wired, wilting as the hours pass.

an old tv keeps the room alive in young hours,

keeps the young busy in tangled wires, hooked up

with ativan prescriptions and oxygen levels,

keeps my head dizzy with the smell

of disinfectant formaldehyde.

doctors give my nephew hoodsie cups

while my sister has two seizures in the bathroom.

she rips out her intravenous needle and wakes up

baptized in her own blood, erupting

from the stall like some biblical martyr.

she does not know my name or her son’s,

but knows to stick out her arm for another needle

when the nurse pulls up behind us.

they keep it cool there, sixty-two degrees

so the infection doesn’t spread.

when I have to take my nephew out

so they can mop up the linoleum,

the heavy summer air pulls on my skin like weights,

and his tears clean the ice cream stain

from his cheeks in long ribboned tracts.

the late august cicadas are singing as they burrow

down in the ground until they can no longer bathe

in the ashy topsoil of cremated earth.

the smoking nurse next to me knows my name,

but doesn’t feel like talking.

#AllisonOKeefe #poetry #20172018

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