BOOKS & THE CULTURE Patient Murray, female In Recovery off the O.R., where patients regained consciousness in beds with wheels, festooned by I.V. poles, tubes, and life-support gear, a woman in her sixties came out of the cloud of anesthesia. She opened her eyes, breathing hard, one breath to the next, to the next, as if she were numbering them and then she exhaled in a sigh, her eyes rolling back showing the whites like moons. A voice spoke: “Patient Murray went out” then nurses and interns began disconnecting the metal trees canopying her bed, preparing it for another’s use. Such speed, such efficiency. Something should have been done at her death, some courtesy, some grace, a pause so her soul, its long work completed, could make its way out of the body slowly, with dignity, like an elder. Tree of Life . When I caught my first trout, cleaned, cooked, and ate it with my father on a stream bank in Colorado, I remember fingering the lace of bones joining head to tail, that soft white tree upon which the fish’s life had been hung. In military school when it rained they showed us World War II training films: how to recognize syphilis, how to dig a proper foxhole, and how to be a sniper; which enemy soldier to shoot first when three are walking single file in an open field. M3% long descent into trouble with family, friends, and my draft board began on that rainy afternoon as I watched the crosshairs of the sniper’s rifle enclose each man’s head and explode it. Enemy soldier. Too young to grasp it, I could only imagine each man as someone like myself, a kid, his best stories unlived, still spread out ahead of him in that field, or hidden among the branches of the tree of bones growing inside him. TOM ABSHER even though he now lives in Vermont, teaching literature Tom Absher was born in Kansas, and raised in Texas from the age of four. He still thinks of San Antonio as home base, and creative writing at Vermont College. His most recent chapbook, The Invisible Boy, won the 1998 Hibiscus Award with the Writers’ Voice, judged by Gerald Stern. Absher has two other books of poetry, Forms of Praise, from Ohio State, and The Calling, from Alice James Books. Welcome home, Tom! Naomi Shihab Nye The Observer’s poetry page is partially funded through a grant from the Austin Writers’ League, in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. MARCH 5, 1999 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25
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