What the Intern Saw
He saw a face swollen beyond ugliness
Of one who just a year ago
Practicing routines of rapture:
A boy who could appear
To dodge the touch of time,
Immortal or immune—
A patient in a gown,
In the beautiful school of medicine
He read about human suffering,
An unendurable drama
Until the screen of anaesthesia
And penicillin’s manna.
But now, in myriad sheets
Of storefront glass refracting evening’s
Razor blue, in a land of the freely
Estranged from the dead, he meets
That face and fear seizes his body.
His feet have carried him to bed.
He thinks he must be getting old
To so revise
His nature and his plan.
He shuts his eyes
And in his sleep he sees a gleaming bar,
The shore of pain.
It isn’t far.
People live there.
Phillis Levin is the author of Temples and Fields (The University of Georgia Press, 1988), The Afterimage (Copper Beech Press, 1995), Mercury (Penguin, 2001), and May Day (Penguin, 2008). She is the editor of The Penguin Book of the Sonnet (2001). Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, Grand Street, The Atlantic, Poetry, The Nation, Agni, The New Republic, The Paris Review, Literary Imagination, The Kenyon Review, PN Review, and Poetry London, among other journals and anthologies. Phillis’s poems were included in The Best American Poetry in the 1989, 1998, and 2009 editions. She is professor of English and Poet-in-Residence at Hofstra University. Her fifth collection, Mr. Memory & Other Poems, is forthcoming from Penguin in spring 2016.
This poem appeared in Temples and Fields (1988) and is reprinted with the permission of The University of Georgia Press.
Photo: Sheila McKinnon