I picture you.
Dressed in a stygian three-piece suit,
White cloth anterior to four chambers,
Lapel of velvet glistening
While the white shirt offers a contrast
As Bond’s rival makes his debut
Amidst skin as sweet as overripe bananas.
Representing decades of my kin,
Hand wrapped in Africa’s finest
A mirror image of my grandfather
In an era of Tuskegee.
As frustrations rise
From words missing ears and
Eyes denying the witness’s statement
With disease left to foster while
Mistrust runs through future generations
He stood by your bed
A counterpart in blood and organs
An opposite in skin and heritage
But in a room full of white coats
He mislabeled you as someone to fear
My stark identities becoming more pronounced
As I wonder his view of me
I see you.
The blue garment draping your figure
The tracheotomy helping you breathe
The wired jaw forbidding words
The muscle atrophy from lying
The depression as hope fades
Object to piercing eyes as they try to define you,
Friend or foe?
I stand by uncomfortable with his analogy of
Black equals dangerous
Unsure how to voice it
Hoping one day,
He can picture you as I.
This poem was written after a white male counterpart sought to explain to our attending why the nurses feared one of our patients. From his viewpoint, the patient’s frustrations, body size, and his race likely made him an intimidating figure.
The patient was a Black male who had been hospitalized for three months. He could not speak due to his wire-shut jaw and tracheotomy. He could barely look down at the pen and paper as he wrote to communicate with us. He was given sponge baths as he could not get out of bed. He could not even turn his head toward the TV in the corner of his room. He was vulnerable, weak, and a shadow of health. He reminded me of my family members.
So when my counterpart conveyed to our attending that he understood why this patient was feared by the nursing staff, I was shocked. I stood by listening with silent objection. From my perspective the patient was sad, lonely, and frustrated, not intimidating. This poem is a play on perception. If the physical features of the patient changed so that he looked and dressed like James Bond, I do not think he would have been perceived as dangerous.
Image credit: Shasta County Fire Activity (Eiler Fire) by Cal OES licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.