The paddles make his chest rise and fall.
His stopped heart kicks, starts to beat again.
They bring him back to life because they can,
because no one thought to sign a DNR.

His beating heart beats evenly again,
and the crash-cart team marvel at his age.
Because no one thought to sign a DNR,
the doctors will not let him turn the page.

They marvel at my ancient father’s age—
what’s resuscitation if not resurrection?
They will not let my father turn the page.
They hide inside a world of protocol.

This resuscitation is no resurrection.
They bring him back to life because they can.
They hide inside a world of protocol.
The paddles make his chest rise and fall.


Souterrain

The pantoum, like the villanelle, is a form that depends on the repetition of certain lines. I’ve tried for years to write a successful pantoum, invariably finding myself defeated by the sense that the lines, as they were repeated, did not deepen in meaning; instead, they started to sound hollow. By the time I’d reach the end of the poem, I would have a strong sense that it had gone on for too long. I told myself that the problem was simply a failure in execution on my part.

At the same time, I often had the same flat experience when I read pantoums that were generally considered to be successful. It occurred to me that the pantoum may not be suited to English. Or it could be that there is an emptiness at the heart of this form. When I arrived at the latter conclusion, I began to think about ways in which this condition could be harnessed; maybe to describe a state of mind where memory is compromised: dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Patients suffering from these diseases often repeat the same stories over and over. In ‘Resuscitation‘, the subject of the poem is my father, who is now in an advanced state of dementia. My knowledge of his mental state—his failing memory—perhaps played into this poem, though in ways invisible to the reader.

The poem was prompted by an incident last year when my father went into cardiac failure and was brought back to life. It seemed to me at the time that it would have been kinder to just let him go, but because the means were there to bring him back to life, he was resuscitated. The simmering anger in the piece is as much self-directed as it is directed at the medical profession. My failure was to not have put in place a document, a DNR, which would have removed resuscitation as an option. The larger failure, however, is that of modern medicine which has the means to prolong life for longer than it should be prolonged. It’s a hollow victory, and one that the pantoum seems particularly well-equipped to capture.