"vigil strange I kept in the ICU one night"

"never again on earth responding"

Noah Cain

Noah Cain teaches high school English and writes in Winnipeg. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications including CV2, antilang, and Glass.

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"These poems respond to 'Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field one Night,' written by Walt Whitman based on his experiences as a medic during the American civil war. Whitman's poem led me to explore the strange vigils I have kept for the dying and the contrast of the elemental and intensely intimate death described by Whitman with the more sanitized, detached deaths that occur within the ICU."


visions of northern leopard frogs


     splattering against plywood walls

          tossed by preteen gangs

          who walk paths 

               flatbeak caps back 

     limbs splayed

     rotate, thud

     caught in lawnmower blades 

          that tame the swamp-edge clearing

               thin screams unheard under

               two stroke thwacks

     slick green skin 

     aromatic clippings

     gasping in ice cream pails

          a tuft of grass

          an inch of water

          a stone

               air holes stabbed in

               yellow lids, dead mosquitos

     stress mottles 

     skin patterns murky

     suffocating in rucksacks 

          small hands forget 

          pocket pets 

               found festered 

               by moms 

     among still-folded



a prayer


     may they die as they thrive—

     in muck

     tune their tympanums

     (those drums of membrane and cartilage) 

     to the clumsy signals, grubby hands

     of boys trained to war 







the blurring half-wake


     frozen lake floor silence   —   ICU discord          

  baggy green skin breathes   —   mechanical breath

  three chamber heart echoes   —    mechanical beat       

                             til spring   —   my ears ring.       


               life redefined




               the world  

               is melting


               why aren’t you waking up?

          your skull too thin 

          for this paved, curbed



     your heart                                                 beats

                      the headwater of red rivers 

     in a latex hand                                          beats     

     on ice


     your torso a cavern

     empty bone cage

          an organ at a time

               skin shroud stitched



     in other bodies 

     you’ll pump, oxygenate, purify 

     in test tubes you’ll react to stimuli

     populate scatterplots


               do you belong to me at all?

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