The poetry of Charles W. Brice

I Don’t Remember His Name

He didn’t want to walk.
He’d had a heart attack,
had almost died. “Please don’t,”
he pled, his eyes screamed Mercy!
I was a conscientious objector
who had refused my government’s order
to kill people I didn’t know in Vietnam,
and yet I obeyed this order given me
by Mrs. Lewis, our tough old head nurse
who was still fighting World War II.
Had I refused, I’d have lost my job—
wound up in jail or in Canada.

I apologized to this quiet little man
who quivered in his hospital bed,
sheets snug under his chin,
and helped him to his feet.
“Please don’t,” he said again,
The doctor who’d written the order for him
to walk was a twenty-five-year-old snit
who thought tragedy was an “A-” in biostatistics.
Still, I hugged my patient’s midriff, held him
close. He grasped my arm, sweating and panting,
as if on the edge of an abyss.

“You’ll be okay,” I said, without conviction.
Five years earlier I’d watched my father,
ashen and flummoxed, take his last breath.
Now I watched Mrs. Lewis,
and when she turned away,
I led the man back to his bed.
We’d only made it about twelve feet.
I patted his arm and tucked him in.

I wasn’t there when one of my colleagues
walked him and he threw an embolus
in the middle of that ancient hospital ward.
I was spared killing him, yet the terror
of his last moments has stayed with me
for forty years. He knew what was best,
but no one would listen to him,
not even me.

Charles W. Brice is a retired psychoanalyst and is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), and An Accident of Blood (forthcoming), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best in Net anthology and a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Main Street Rag, Chiron Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, SLAB, The Paterson Literary ReviewMuddy River Poetry Review and elsewhere.

One comment

  1. “I Don’t Remember His Name” reminded me of an incident that happened to me when I was taken to a hospital by an ambulance seven years ago. Tests there showed that my prostate cancer had spread to twenty-seven bones in my body. As I waited in excruciating agony to be transferred to hospice, a physical therapist and his pretty young assistant came to my bedside. “it’s time for you to get out of bed and take a walk to maintain your physical abilities, ” the therapist told me blithely.
    “I can’t walk,” I confessed. “The reason I called an ambulance was because the pain was so intense when I stood up that I wasn’t able to get to my car. That’s why my wife couldn’t drive me here.”
    The therapist said by way of instruction to his assistant, “Sometimes patients will refuse to do what’s good for them. You have to be firm with them.”
    “Besides, I’m going to hospice tomorrow. I don’t think exercising is going to be much use to me,” I explained.
    “Listen buddy,” I was sternly told, “you’ll never get better unless you buck up and make an effort!”
    “Okay…” I gingerly moved to try to stand. As I put weight on my feet, a paralyzing strike of pain toppled me. Fortunately, my sister and son were by my sides and caught me and swiftly swung me back into bed.
    The therapist commented, “You evidently aren’t ready yet. We’ll come back later.”
    As the pain continued to sizzle through me, I thought to myself, “Take your time, you fool.” Obviously., through a set of incredibly fortunate circumstances, I have lived, no thanks to those who took no notice of the information I was very willing to provide.


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