Mary Oliver

University Hospital, Boston

The trees on the hospital lawn 
are lush and thriving. They too 
are getting the best of care, 
like you, and the anonymous many, 
in the clean rooms high above this city,  
where day and night the doctors keep  
arriving, where intricate machines  
chart with cool devotion 
the murmur of the blood, 
the slow patching-up of bone,  
the despair of the mind. 

When I come to visit and we walk 
out  into the light of a summer day, 
we sit under the trees — 
buckeyes, a sycamore, and one 
black walnut brooding 
high over a hedge of lilacs 
as old as the red-brick building 
behind them, the original 
hospital built before the Civil War. 
We sit on the lawn together, holding hands  
while you tell me: you are better. 

 How many young men, I wonder, 
came here, wheeled on cots off the slow trains 
from the red and hideous battlefields 
to lie all summer in the small and stuffy chambers  
while doctors did what they could, longing 
for tools still unimagined, medicines still unfound,  
wisdoms still unguessed at, and how many died  
staring at the leaves of the trees, blind 
to the terrible effort around them to keep them alive? 
I look into your eyes 

which are sometimes green and sometimes gray,  
and sometimes full of humor, but often not, 
and tell myself, you are better, 
because my life without you would be 
a place of parched and broken trees. 
Later walking the corridors down to the street, 
I turn and step inside an empty room. 
Yesterday someone was here with a gasping face.  
Now the bed is made all new, 
the machines have been rolled away. 
The silence  continues, deep and neutral, 
as I stand there, loving you.

spoken = Susannah Wood