OXYGEN | Hollis Kurman


A machine detecting dye, the parry

padding into the room where he lies,

wordless, feet stilled and arms bound.

His glasses have been removed,

his pockets emptied. A life fills

those pockets, the tokens and coins,

addresses and appointments. Cash, still.

Hints of barter expired. I clutch his coat

and dapper hat in my lap, breathing in

deeply, as he cannot, to record his scent.

The apartment chokes on his clutter

and unfinished, unopened, unpaid.

Beyond his windows the not yet sun,

bouncing upward from building angles.

We pace, sit, wait. Television grates.

From the doorway I see only

sheets and blankets in tangle;

a rise too small to describe

a man. How many hours ago

had the coughing commenced?

The whoosh of car tires in the rain white

noises our sleep. For one slow moment

the high floor nights return, doormen guarding

our years-of-taking-things-for-granted, so sure

we had a right to that address, to one another.

He was a perfect tweed, a dimpled felt hat,

not yet visored souvenir nor hospital cap.

Lonely yet stately at home, his pride in saving

lives. The city would greet him, “Ah, Doctor,”

not yet tempted to take his elbow or to cry.

When the phone call comes, crumple

and break. Wait, we’ve not yet

spoken today; wait, take my oxygen;

wait, the policemen called you “sir” in the

middle of the night, carrying you back to bed.



Hollis Kurman is contributing Editor on the Board of Barrow Street Books in NYC. Her poems (one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize) have been published in multiple journals, including Barrow Street, Rattle, Phoebe, the Ocean State Review, and VIA (Voices in Italian Americana), and are forthcoming in AMS (Cipher Literary Magazine). Kurman also writes poems and stories for children. Her debut picture book, Welcome 1! A Counting Book of Kindnesses (the refugee child’s journey through the lens of help offered along the way) will be published in 2020 by Otter Barry Books (UK) with an endorsement by Amnesty International.  The writer, who lives in Amsterdam, has studied poetry with Sharon Olds and Daniel Hoffman.