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Three Poems
Little Pharma as Lady Macbeth

Everything turned out to be true

the ward rooms had thick wooden doors
and sealed picture windows

given a room with one man screaming
you could throw medicine and close the door

given a room of two men
one screaming
you kept the door open
for sake of the quiet one

the doors were like children’s scabs
needing to be coaxed along

in the pharmacy of the child
one used a hopscotch stone
a jacket zipper one’s tongue
the sharper tongue of a friend
anything to get one’s soft skin back

the doors were like the lost world
of loose teeth
of which there seemed to be hundreds per mouth

needing special prayers offerings of ribbons
and hot caramels
barely singed meats whatever
would lure them
trading pain for money

through the door you could shuttle
white pink slate pills
vials of lidocaine
applied by needle

patches of fentanyl
their rate-limiting membrane
like the flower called four o’clocks
flickering between trumpet and fist

blue gray ochre pills
for our guests

it was our success
to offer so much variety
and yet consistency
as bathed the old courts and hotels

ichor of silver polish and mineral oil
forms of silence opening

porches of cadenza
patio fermatas

one could teach well-born children
how to attack the phrase

the guests already know


Little Pharma Sees Ghosts

The ghosts crackle they are breaking in
Being seasoned
Like leather or iron

Their new task
Minding her
A fussy tremor like a moth sac

The white was just outside her
The breathing-in cupped wool on her tongue

Who trains them
They are so close even now
And when they are more supple …

          If she had ordered blood at six and again at nine
          If she had felt for a liver when the eyes rolled back

Minding her
Fussing and pointing like the mothers of foreigners
Their dishes are monstrous and alkaline

          If she had seized the pupils of the eyes
          Measured their mismatch
          Cold dime and colder nickel

Who breeds them
They are not real and they are even closer
They are even they are untippable correct

          If she had accounted
          unusual weights conversions blood types telemetry hypsometry
          cadastration straw polls questionnaires

As they season to leather and iron
They begin to smell
Closing her eyes only brings them out

As is said of the blind and music
As is said of the blind and the dullest items
When will the carpet dry is the stove on

They are supple the size of seals rolling
Who fattens them
Who stepped outside with them

Their white breathing is wooling her
She must be kept dry or she will shrink
She crackles with lanolin

All of the mouths not hers
Trilling together tip on tip
Close and correct as a leather-brown nest


The Tower

Into the reflective tower I came then
Although I had no mandate and my stethoscope at home
Holding the sharded road noise through its neck

I was given
A box of toys for doctors
          A gavel to dismiss a knee
          A light that brought out blood behind the human lens
          A funnel for ears, every size compatible with the hunt
          A list of every kind of fire, each paired to a telephone

Linens ruled the backstairs
Long coats, overshoe slippers
Sheets fashioned after whales
A weepable top-eye
Like the extinct rorquals and those living

Each holed linen paired with burstable ampules
Bleach and spirits
To rub through the eye to
The skin

Like church art not one thing had a meaningful back
This was not church my friends were not absent I was still
In sin possibly late and it was a tower after all

A wreath on the table chewing itself softly
Like a dog on its own tail
Bells were pulled for almost nothing, just counting

Unlike year or season, the week is not real in sky terms

In the tower the best medicines
In two bags like twins
Brought together, are strong on the spot

One does not believe in them
One rather steps abreast of their system
And observes outcomes from
The oily and marine ones, the powders, gases

One does not depart
The tower is too awake
And discloses new extensions off

Its telescope spine
The color of dried yogurt

One stays then and the world
Walks out as though at large

Laura Kolbe practices medicine and teaches at Weill Cornell Hospital in New York. Her poems, essays, and fiction have appeared in American Poetry ReviewNew York Review of BooksVQRYale Review, and elsewhere.