2017 Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Prize Runner-Up

First Night

            “We think you’d do better with a few days in transitional care.” 

The woman who lives in Channel Four, where everyone claps, fights
with the aide who wants her, hurry up, gowned for the night,
teeth tucked into the bathroom glass,

while I in my flimsy curtained cubicle study the sounds. And my eyelids close
and become a screen or three or four at a nursing home cineplex.

On the way to the bathroom I pass her bed and the woman who lives in Channel Four
has flung her herself over the back of night. Her gown at the crest of her pubic bone,
her mouth an O, a few loud cries.

I lie down again and sounds rise up. Blessings, goodbyes, loud and tribal,
one shift leaving another arriving. On the screen of my eyelids they’re traders striding, tracing a path they’ve worn with their feet, carrying salt to a settlement in the hills.

Their route is the top canyon walls, and if you look down you see bodies falling, pitched into a river of sleep. Here’s where the young like to talk and joke, hanging out at the rim
of a fall. I trace my way to the nursing station, hand groping along the wall.

A cup of hot chocolate? A soporific? They’d like it better if I were in bed. I wait in bed
and look who brings it, a woman so dainty she comes from the top of a wedding cake. Sweater and scrubs the color of pearls. Goodnight, Mama, she says when I’ve swallowed
all of the syrupy drink.

Then the ice carts come. Wheels scrape, water sloshes ice clanks and jitters, no way to suppress the noise that follows the canyon that swallowed the sleepers down below.
Their bodies are brined, they twist in the current. I thirst for quiet. The call bells ring —
the residents waking — the red and blue wires climb up my eyelids, they ring and ring.

I follow the wall to the nursing station.
Can’t someone answer? I am so angry I see fear in the nurse’s eyes.

Now the building begins to contract. The dusty road is tiled hallway again, the traders fade. I see the last of their calloused heels. Monday employees come in fresh headscarves. It’s morning at last and the gray sleepers floating below me rise up to their beds.

My cineplex eyelids rest for moment. A cup of coffee may be in my future. The woman who lives in Channel Four turns on her TV and everyone claps, and she puts her teeth back in her mouth.

Poems by Alice Duggan have been published in Sleet Magazine, Waterstone Review,
Tar River Poetry, Sugar House, and other journals, as well as in a chapbook, A Brittle Thing, from Green Fuse Press and an anthology, Home, from Holy Cow! Press. She’s interested in dailiness, now and in previous generations; in conversations and colloquial language; in the idiosyncratic corners of life.