“Midnight in the Covid ICU in Rural Alabama” by Selene Frost

Selene Frost


Where there is pain, the remedy follows:
wherever the lowlands are, the water goes.
If you want the water of mercy, make yourself low …
—Rumi, “The Mathnawi”

“How do you spell daughter?”
she says, her shoulders sagging low
over the consent form, her penmanship a treason.
“I can’t write in cursive.” My head cocks to the side.
“Do you understand?” I ask, “If I lay her flat to do this, she might die.” Her eyes are a house
with dark windows, stilts buckling under the threat of the wave.

Her hand wavers.
I think of my own daughter,
sound asleep, hot little hands hanging low
her dreams warm as sun-
light, I’ll have to strip naked before I come inside
bleach the blood and sickness off my shoes before I come in the house.

I wish it was a new feeling, watching this woman’s little son
kick the linoleum and put his thumb inside
his mouth. I live in a divided house
kicking linoleum an island apart from the grief that falls like waves
of fat black flies and maggot daughters
swarming a carcass in the lowlands.

“Is Ma ever coming back to the house?”
I look over, the sickness seeps from her pores, fetid water from polluted waves.
“I don’t know,” I tell the daughter.
“Her sats are so low,”
the nurse says. I say “I don’t know,” but by sun-
rise, she’ll be wailing like a beast from the hillside.

I walk in the room. Bedside,
she looks small. Her small dreams a warm house
for her kids to live in. The ventilator charts the waves
of her breath. Her daughter
makes herself low,
her voice smaller than her son.

I make myself low.
I seethe in the ransom of my thoughts—crimson—
but needless, so needless. I push the side
of the scalpel into her thigh. She’s the victim of a house
divided. The flags diminished, waving
in surrender, wondering what will become of the mothers and daughters.

I wave sleep aside
and mop the floor of the ruined house. The sun
hangs low. I drive home to my daughter.

from Poets Respond
September 28, 2021


Selene Frost: “I’m a general surgeon taking call at a rural Alabama hospital overrun with Covid patients. This sestina is in response to a particular instance when I travelled 2 hours in the middle of the night to help perform some procedures that were beyond the scope of practice of the heroes trying to keep this ICU afloat. The human cost of this pandemic is incredible. It’s not just about the vulnerable. Half the people dying in that room were in their 40s and 50s. None were vaccinated.” (web)

Rattle Logo