Power in the Blood

There is wonder-working power in the blood.

My mother spent several days in the hospital a few years ago before she died. She kept the TV in her room on MSNBC. She was a devoted MSNBC fan. While doctors and nurses checked blood pressures and ran tests and while they were giving her blood, commentators’ voices rose and fell with news about the out of control costs of medical care. This poem arose out of that crazy chaos.

As I look back on those days of waiting with and caring for her, I realize that there is indeed wonder-working power in human blood vessels. My mother was resilient in body and spirit in the midst of many illnesses. I am thankful for that. I am also grateful for the wonder-working power we encountered during that time in the gifts of God’s presence.

The old hymn from my childhood pounds out
a heat-beating rhythm in my head.
“There is power, power,
wonder-working power
in the blood,”
while plasma charts a course
through octogenarian veins,
a crimson thread
marking a jagged line
between life and death.

“Here you go, honey,”
the Starbucks barista said
and her eyes smiled
while her mouth hid
behind one of those disposable face masks
medical center workers were wearing
that windy winter day.
I smiled back, took the potent elixir,
and drank,
as the dark roasted incense swirled.

Battle lines are drawn,
expiration date unknown but certain
as soon as womb-water breaks
onto unmapped territory.
“It could go either way,”
the hospitalist said.
“But it’s all covered.”
I Googled “hospitalist”
and waited
for a lingering red pearl to let go.

Does Death have an infrastructure?

Into the Woods


While reading Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder I was struck by the phrase “death’s infrastructure.” My thoughts turned to the ongoing news and debates about health care and this short poem emerged.

Does Death have an infrastructure? Or do we
read about the end of life as we know it
in the morning newspaper, fresh as a starched
shirt until Nell in the nursing home
looking through smudged reading glasses
for the daily crossword skims one more
sensational headline that promises Truth
but whose blurring words already smell of fish?