Room of Requirement

by Jane Lin

He is in bed, stripped down to boxers
under the gown, and I sit a comfortable
distance from my friend, his shirt, shorts, shoes
like a dog at his feet. He clenches, presses
his hand to his side, writhes—a naked
moment for myself, second in the calling chain,
proxy for his love who sobbed,
Go, find out what is happening to him.


Sometimes we choose our witnesses.
Midwife and sister at childbirth. My beloved
present for every intimate moment
from lovemaking to grief to climbing in and out
of a wheelchair because I can't bear
any position to get to the hospital room,
intestine looped shut.

Sometimes we choose no one. Crouch
on the bathroom floor.

Then the necessary strangers. The nurse
who measures the cervix, changes dressings,
inserts the needle.


Some say a kidney stone is more painful
than childbirth. Here a man, as private as pain gets
in the emergency room. Private as grief standing
in a receiving line. Public as the obituary
omitting the cause of his sister's death.
Draw the curtain. When the drugs kick in,
send him home with a prescription and strainer.


Some say the spine is worse.
The pain so great each time the nurses
shifted my mother's body, my father
left the room. Then voiceless, her eyes
wide, the vein in her forehead thick.

What did she think when I told her,
fumbling for understanding,
when she could still walk, that I knew pain,
the unproductive kind. She was stronger

than me, never chose death. Endured
while doctors argued over dosage, consciousness
over relief. The jagged stone crushed out of us.

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