I’m in the ER in gown and jeans. The curtain
of my cubicle is open. I chat with a young woman
in street clothes sitting on her bed. Her curtain is open.
She has two sons and smiles as she describes them.
One likes football, the other baseball.
She has migraines. She is thinking brain tumor.
I have a persistent pain that feels as if I got punched
in the chest just left of center. I’m thinking
it’s from the four feet of snow I shoveled and then,
this spring, from the seven yards of mulch.
I am thinking tumor-wrapped aorta
or peanut-shaped plaque in a coronary artery.
In the ER cubicle across from mine, a surgeon
talks to a man about the softball-sized growth
on the man’s inner thigh. The curtain is open.
The surgeon wants to admit him.
The man asks the ER nurse to call his girlfriend
to let her know he won’t be coming home tonight.
He wants to go out for a smoke.
He wants me to see the growth on his leg.
I glance at it out of respect.
“It’s like a car accident,” the ER nurse says,
“where you should, but don’t want to, look away.”
The man talks about a past heart attack, how,
while pushing a mower, his left side went numb.
“I felt like I had pins and needles in me,” he says.
Soon, attendants arrive and roll him away
on his bed with wheels.
After an EKG, a blood test, and chest X-rays,
I learn I have inflamed cartilage where ribs
meet breastbone. I am Paul Bunyan
and embarrassed to be here among the sick.
I drive home repeating the word “costochondritis.”
In the kitchen, I empty the dishwasher
and note the marvelous colors and designs on plates,
the glorious curves of goblets, and outside,
on the deck rail, the magnificent music of a wren.
Later, in bed, with my hand, I trace the lovely,
warm, and steady thigh of my sleeping wife.