I know he’s dead. I’ve driven ambulance, cut down hangings
pulled heads out of ovens, delivered babies in snow and he’s dead
as surely as grass without water dies.
Head back, little body askew on the sidewalk
his blue shorts show no signs of mess, his banty legs awry
tee-shirt not sweating through. No one knows who he is. No ID.
Does anyone know first aid? And I who know first aid
stand aside while an entourage of well-meaning
men and women surge or approach cautiously to the end
of the no-named man lying on the shaded sidewalk
head at the foot of a sapling, eyes half closed and vacant.
A tall muscular man stripped to the waist with shaved head
and earrings rollerblades right up to the corpse and covers it with a blanket
and I say, “He’s dead. Don’t cover the face. It freaks people out to cover the face.”
The guy with the thin moustache standing next to me rips the blanket off.
The rollerblader takes the dead man’s pulse with his thumb
which says, he doesn’t know his own thumb has a pulse
and no, he won’t be able to revive this man, who’s Latin
say five feet-five, hands beginning to wax, gray hair settling in.
He begins to look unreal, and still the rollerblader knocks CPR
on his chest, then he tentatively touches the dead man’s face
tips his head back, looks inside his mouth, shakes his head
says “purple” and skates off into his immortal day.
Now sirens blast and loom, the young men swing off the great red
machine with sure, measured steps and paraphernalia
designed to give us another whack, a chance to hold on
a swarming blue-eyed harmony, this strange enclave of angels
who even know when it’s too late and it is too late.
They dig from their little black bags some accoutrements
for life and this time it’s not mine to perform, it’s theirs to pretend.
They lock the oxygen in place, defibrillate and push, take a stethoscope
to pronounce him after I’ve pronounced him and I’m hard pressed to speak.
I have passed the baton. My wisdom let’s them sign the final say.
I walk away. This man’s face tilts skyward, presses my mind.
A touch of larceny and trickery. He unwittingly and finally marks
what is and isn’t and what trails this sweltering Sunday
toward home, toward light, toward ever-sweet tomorrow.
David Plumb has worked as a paramedic, cab driver, cook, tour guide, and adjunct professor. Writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Outlaw Poetry Network, Sport Literate, Gargoyle and One Paycheck Away. He volunteers for An Alzheimer’s Poetry Project and is past director for a homeless shelter. Will Rogers said, “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” Plumb says, “It depends on the parrot.”