Vasovagal Syncope

They warn the cadets each September don’t
lock your knees / A certain philosopher
falls down at parties as if chatter’s killed
him / The trigger is posture / not social but
arterial constraint slamming the door
to his brain shut / He’s a specialist in reasons
to be good // When I wore a candystriper’s
pinafore I squeezed past a cart that blocked
entry to a hospital room / The man
sleeping with his mouth ajar looked thirsty
so I filled his jug with shine and returned
to the hall abrim with the narcotic syrup
of my own virtue / That cart means he’s dead /
a real medical aide said / so I retired
to the solarium for the rest of my shift
and rolled an icy cola can across my head //
Next week I tried to be good again / A nurse
pressed / if she won’t eat, force her / so I sat
by the patient’s bed / smear of soup on the raised
spoon / I’d coaxed food into angry babies
but here songs about the magic tunnel seemed
biohazardous / stay away from the light /
She shut her lips martially / looked down / I
urged the metal bowl to the pales of her teeth /
Next thing my camera shutter swirled to a bright
speck and the nurses were cooing over me
in a fume of smelling salts while all the actual
patients kept on starving themselves / At fifteen /
pink-and-white smock cinched tightly at the ribs /
I was so much cuter than diseased old people //
Being good is impossible though there are many
reasons to try / Uniforms are meant
to button thinking up / Better to dilate
the channels / Shade drawn to admit a square
of water / Cup of sparkle honoring the gate

Lesley Wheeler’s collections include Radioland, The Receptionist and Other Tales, Heterotopia, and Heathen. Recent poems and essays appear in Gettysburg Review, Tahoma Literary Review, and Poetry, and she blogs about poetry at “The Cave, The Hive” ( Wheeler is the Henry S. Fox Professor of English at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.