Startling Poetry: At Your Hospital Bed

If I’m ever confined to the hospital, I hope someone will be kind and come read poetry and stories to me. Don’t leave me in the clutches of Judge Judy and Oprah, I beg of you!


“At Your Hospital Bed” by Mark Z. Danielewski

Not all poems are poems.

Here’s one way to tell them apart:

a poem that is not a poem will forget you;

a poem that is a poem will sit beside you

at your hospital bed.

Those old enough will know what I mean.

Those young enough, I’m happy to think,

don’t have a clue.

Though eventually most of us are dragged to this

understanding by someone we love or could love or like

just enough to feel something more than remote concern for

who falls ill.

We bring petals, potted roots, that book

perhaps; cards, balloons, maybe an app.

Whatever the nurses let us take in.

Maybe it’s not an illness either

but an injury (or something meaner than both).

It makes no difference.

We’ll stay. Sit there.

And sit there some more.

And if caring dragged us here, how

we’ll resent what caring has in store.

Each instant will remind us of where one

Day we too have to go – some hospital

Bed, some state of failing, however curt-

ailed or drawn           out.

To make matters worse, the one lying there

Will resent us just as much, because despite what

Craving preceded our visit – that broken-down countdown

Of breaking minutes – by the time we arrived we saved

Nothing, changed nothing, offered nothing lasting.

At best we were only a second-best distraction.

And yet when the time comes to go. Our

Departures provoke melancholy, anxiety,

Distress. Even if those are communicated

With a wave, thanks, the insistent yet questioning

Gaze of an EKG, we guess, or some other monitor.

We’ll hate ourselves for loving

To get out of there so fast

Which we won’t love for long

Because love always brings us back

To this one who has brought to fact

The frailty of shadows living.

And so we’ll forget the presents,

The helium, electronics and chatter.

We will just show up and be

– again and again – and so let

the fallen be, by finally recognizing

what it means to be – over and over.

Recognizing is what matters;

recognizing is what poems demand.

Remember it, those of you

lucky enough to receive one.

No matter what’s said, no matter

what’s so difficult to understand:

a poem is a promise in the starkest hour

to sit beside you at your hospital bed

and not let you fade into fear alone.

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