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 Review, Muddy River Poetry Review and elsewhere.