“Surrender” by Rachel Mallalieu

Rachel Mallalieu


Patients crowd my dreams 
demanding to be seen 
and saved.
When I work, they clog 
the waiting room and die 
in hallways.
At the beginning of the pandemic, 
we began observing a moment 
of silence each time someone died. 
I usually placed my hand
upon their shoulders
and thought this was a life
Last week, when a woman’s heart
stopped outside of CAT scan, 
a nurse straddled
the gurney and started pumping
her chest. It didn’t work. 
Well shit, the nurse said, 
now I’m all sweaty.
No one stopped or bowed 
their head. 
Today, in the winter woods, 
only the deer’s split 
tracks mar the mud-strewn path. 
The trees sway with the knife-
edged wind and creak
like rusted hinges. 
Around the bend, two swans 
paddle in a January pond.
The dog gallops ahead—
where the boulder bears a coat
of moss—his tail a white flag 
waving surrender. 

from Rattle #82, Winter 2023


Rachel Mallalieu: “As an emergency physician, I am forever hoping for things to go back to ‘the way they were.’ The pandemic, however, exposed and exacerbated longstanding issues such as emergency room boarding and the lack of a medical safety net for many. Now we are also severely understaffed. Many days, we do not have the nurses and techs needed to safely staff an ER. Medical staff is burning out at alarming rates and patients are suffering. I don’t know the answer, but something has to give.” (web)

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