The fog has yet to lift, God, and still the bustle
of buses and garbage trucks. God, I have coveted
sleep. I have wished to find an empty bed
in the hospital while on call. I have placed
my bodily needs first, left nurses to do
what I should have done. And so, the antibiotics
sat on the counter. They sat on the counter
under incandescent lights. No needle was placed
in the woman’s arm. No IV was started. It sat there
on the counter waiting. I have coveted sleep, God,
and the toxins I studied in Bacteriology took hold
of Your servant. When the blood flowered
beneath her skin, I shocked her, placed the paddles
on her chest, her dying body convulsing each time.
The antibiotics sat on the counter, and shame
colored my face, the blood pooling in my cheeks
like heat. And outside, the stars continued falling
into place. And the owl kept talking without listening.
And the wind kept sweeping the streets clean.
And the heart in my chest stayed silent.
How could I have known that I would never forget,
that early some mornings, in the waking time,
the fog still filling the avenues, that the image
of her body clothed in sweat would find me?
I have disobeyed my Oath. I have caused harm.
I have failed the preacher from the Baptist Church.
Dear God, how does a sinner outlast the sin?
appeared originally in Virginia Quarterly Review
reprinted in Best American Poetry 2008