I used to mop the floors
in the detox ward, a line of doors
guarded by a coded lock
the patients' days from mine,
that portioned out their time,
as I wondered,
and soldiered against entropy,
what I'd do if it were me
and I had risen there,
after wrong turns, blood burned,
and had to watch the world
from six stories up,
had to come clean, ride down, return.
The nuns who ran the place,
wore a hardened patience on their face,
and brooked no bullshit,
for they'd heard
every last tale about falling down,
knew every promise was a gamble at best,
that half weren't as good as their word.
I must have changed
a thousand beds, arranged
pillows for as many heads,
hauled legions of trash
in bundles down tunnels
to the ancient furnace,
all that trial and error turned to ash.
What was I doing there,
counting out my share
of wages, waiting between schools,
my course uncertain?
The old priest—dubbed Fr. Mumbles—
blessed the patients daily, blessed me too,
his cassock, a hobbling black curtain,
he'd been at Bataan, a nurse said, sotto voce,
the death march had broken his body
into a crooked shadow, his wounds
from a war I only knew as history,
but that I saw traced into
the offices of his prayer,
the limping shuffle of his ministry.
Sometimes, from a high window,
I'd watch an arriving ambulance below
pulsing red and golden
as it came to us
from the city and its steady feed
of ruin, of pain, of plain bad luck, and anger,
of all that's ugly, but lit with something glorious.