Stroke of Justice

by Lindsay Romo: School of Medicine/Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences M.D./Ph.D. Class of 2015

Second Prize Winner 2014 Gerald F. Berlin Creative Writing Award

1. In the bedroom where you died

I found out about your stroke the night before an anatomy test.
I stood in that room full of the remains of other people’s
grandparents and I cried but I didn’t really believe in
the possibility of your death the way I believed in theirs
and I was scared that you could become that corporeal,
just a yellow pin through a phrenic nerve.

When you stopped breathing, it was like that last time
in childhood my father carried me to bed- I didn’t know it was the end,
and we all waited for the resolution of that apnea
but it didn’t come- it never came- and that moment
didn’t seem any different from the last, but you were gone.

2. In a hospital

I stood with a woman who’d fallen that morning, ignobly in her
bathrobe before a thin dawn but when I looked at her
I saw only you, and imagined your last hours tangled in the kitchen chair
as the dogs skirted around your legs to lick your slackened face.

They found this woman soon enough, sprawled on the floor
and silent, so she was coming back by degrees,
tipping back towards life from that edge of beyond.
I hated her; I hated her life in the halo of your death.
What convolution decided her summer and your fall?

3. In a doctor’s office

There was a man who’d they’d kept alive when he should
have died, paralyzed and voiceless.
He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Someone
had dressed him in it. Someone had made a decision
when he could not, and this was the result.
This Hawaiian shirt, this silent life.
In the other room the attending said to me,
“I’m not sure we should have saved him.”

He left me in the office alone with my own silence.
I thought of you and your passing, of
the way your mouth opened and closed like a fish in the end.
For the first time, I wasn’t angry that we didn’t fight
for what we thought was you.

I realized,
medicine is a chapel,
not a courtroom.
Sometimes it’s a prayer, not a gavel.