A woman is admitted to the hospital. The young physician sees that she was once beautiful—very beautiful. She has sequestered herself in a large, private room, where she draws the shades tightly. The lights are off, all except a single dull lamp in the corner. A companion reads there, motionless. In the gloom, the only white things are her arms. They move gracefully, they are lovely even with seventy-plus years, most lovely.
The physician goes to open the shades. “Why is the room so dark?”
—“Because of the Angst.” She has slipped into German.
—“Where does the angst come from?”
—“Von der Seele, die Gott mir gegeben hat.”*
* From the soul that God gave me.
Charles Bardes is a physician who practices and teaches medicine in New York. His book-length prose poem, Diary of Our Fatal Illness (University of Chicago Press, Phoenix Poets, 2017), narrates the illness and death of an aged man. Other poems, essays, and ruminations have appeared in AGNI, Raritan, Ploughshares, The New England Journal of Medicine, and elsewhere. Pale Faces: The Masks of Anemia (Bellevue Literary Press, 2008) is an extended lyric essay that probes the mythological and cultural aspects of a common disease construct. In 2018 he received the Blackwell Prize in Writing, which “honors a writer who exhibits exceptional talent on the printed page, as well as meaningful social commitments on the public stage.” More info at charlesbardes.com. (updated 3/2020)
Charles Bardes and Tom Sleigh coauthored “A Viral Exchange, under Lockdown” for the AGNI blog.