I wake on the ward, afloat on ketamine, fentanyl,
see sky-blue morphine swifts roost nearby
in pleated paper thimbles,
and some uneasy instinct tugs my gaze
to a scuff mark on the lino floor.
Coal-dark, it smolders. I stall.
A voice reassures me it’s just a graze
left by the wheel of some routine machine:
IV, PCA line, heart monitor screen.
Yet as I ease deep-cut core and leaden legs
over the distant side of the tall bed
I can’t shake this need to stare,
not quite in fear; not quite.
For last night, creatures came.
They arrived en masse, nodded, swayed,
pressed into each dimmed cubicle,
their copper eyes bright-candled,
lips pouched over strong, proud teeth,
their heads bowed in silent inspection;
marmalade lions with oxen feet,
crested birds with antlers, candy-pink teats,
hordes crowded, bunched round each bed
as the window in time was fast contracting,
and they wanted us to see before our minds
sealed tough with the fibers of logic, denial.
Their fur packed tight as green florets on catkins.
Their horns, colossal black spikes, gleamed like grand pianos.
Such mass and strength in their embedded weaponry,
yet still, they withheld their crush and maim.
The breath and bunt of their herded skulls
said, we are the unbroken in you; be unafraid,
and I saw through the seep of dawn
that soon like guardians they will gather
each one of us, our failing forms absorbed
into their warm, strong-walled veins
until we too watch
each figure on the bed
as something invisible shifts
in the intricate balance of matter and spirit.
So it is awe, not dread, that asks me
to leave the ground undisturbed
where they gathered,
to skirt carefully the sign one left
like a scorched hoof print
as if they had stood in fire
to show they bear time’s pyre for us,
our wild sentries, our wild sentries.
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