The Killer

January 1, 2003
Volume 20, Issue 1

The Killer

The poem is a capsule where we wrap up our punishable secrets.
-William Carlos Williams

She was old and fragile
and I was just an intern
charged with guiding her care,
her seeing-eye dog in a city
                            hospital.
But I was half-blind, and when I saw
a pulse in her jugular vein
I pressed my stethoscope to her
                            chest--
she inhaled and I heard crackles,
like static on a patrol car radio.

I guessed heart failure.
The answer was pneumonia.

Oh I caught my error the next
                            morning,
dripped in fluids and ampicillin,
but she'd been in bed one day too
                            long,
the clot in her calf broken apart
and trapped in the lattice of her
                            lungs.
I stood by her side, stunned
when her breathing stopped,
and I called the team, barked
orders at the Code. And I felt
like a killer cornered on a dead-end
                            street,
cops and canines closing in,
thinking confession, still holding my
                            gun.