Michelle Lerner

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I see you/ ICU

You were just a boy
with bangs and violin
falling asleep with volume B
of Encyclopedia Britannica
serious and funny.
Now you’re 41 and on
a ventilator.
They try to rouse you and you’re
delirious, delusional
can’t communicate
or stand the stickiness
of the sputum,
your hands in the air until they
tie them down, sedate you
intubate you

I see you walking home at 9
to read the New York Times
your sister bemused beside me
as we let you pass.
She emails daily now
the word of the day
alveoli, DVT
She thinks you’ll be better soon.

No one can visit
or talk to you
your wife and kids
wait by the phone
after week.

How long can you breathe
through a machine, or the
through you?
The nurses are tired
but they all
know your name.



Open-mouthed cell, singular, circular
empty-bellied in your waiting, tired of gathering dust.
We’ve walked past you so many times we thought you were a figment.

You’re in the corner now devouring yourself whole
baby bird and hinge-jawed viper both, hypnotic.

We plunge head first into your churning, frozen as we were midstep
offer up every organ to your crouching vacuum
of need, your struggle to breathe, and
once inside we see
no way out


Michelle Lerner received an MFA in Poetry from The New School. She has been a finalist for the Poetry Box Chapbook Prize, Bridge Eight Fiction Prize, and Book Pipeline Contest; a semifinalist for the Pamet River Prize; long listed for the Dzanc Fiction Prize; and recognized by multiple contests for individual poems, most recently the Iron Horse Review Photofinisher 2020 contest and the Sunspot Inceptions contest. Her poetry can be found in numerous journals including Virginia Quarterly Review, Harvard Women's Law Journal, Paterson Literary Review, Lips, Wordrunner, Adanna, and others, as well as several anthologies.