Poem: Triage - The New York Times

In his latest book, “Renditions,” Reginald Gibbons writes a collection of poems that are riffs, covers, borrowings and thefts, as he cal...


In his latest book, “Renditions,” Reginald Gibbons writes a collection of poems that are riffs, covers, borrowings and thefts, as he calls them. But then, they are always more. He argues that a poem is a choreography, not a word list — a choreography of feeling, perception and thought. And “Triage,” after a few lines from “In the Hospital” by Boris Pasternak, is one of these beauties. Spring is moving into summer, and many of us who have been in triage rooms and somehow noticed the “candelabrum of the cosmos” and returned to our loves, are thankful for it all. Selected by Reginald Dwayne Betts

By Reginald Gibbons

Along my hospitable hall
I hear tongues speaking in people —
a kind and suffering, jumbled
and scared, multilingual choral
improvisation. From my bed,
I hear the patients and healers
conversing in disheveled rooms,
up crowded corridors of more
beds, following diagonals
of waiting, resignation, not
knowing, perhaps recovery.
In the whole inmost ward of my
self, the beds are occupied by
slow-moving remembrances like
time-lapse flower novels. At night,
now, outside the closed windows with-
in me, and outside the clinic,
I see tiny stars glittering
at the bare twig-tips of dark, cold,
sleeping, winter lindens, maples —
each twinkling branch-end a midnight
candelabrum of the cosmos.

— after Boris Pasternak (1956)


Reginald Dwayne Betts is the founder and director of Freedom Reads, an initiative that curates microlibraries and installs them in prisons across America. A poet and essayist, his latest collection of poetry, “Felon,” was a 2020 American Book Award winner. Reginald Gibbons is a poet, writer, translator, literary critic and professor at Northwestern University. He is the author of over a dozen books, including “Creatures of a Day,” which was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award for poetry.

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