In the OR

by Mary MacGowan
The Waters
Second Place, October 2020
Judged by Jim McGarrah

First they tried a spinal block.
Or was it the epidural? Two
were needed after one failed,
that much I have straight.
Five male doctors surrounded
me on the table. I was to remain
sitting up, waiting to feel nothing.
It wasn’t working, but we were
waiting to see. When I tilted
forward to rest my head
on one of their shoulders,
they chuckled gently
like a bunch of grandpas.
That shoulder had no needs,
asked nothing of me, offered
only support. His hand patted
my back. No man before
or since has held me so well.

A good poem will normally have a turning point during which the poet discovers what the poem is really about and in so doing, allows the reader to learn something or feel something as well. This poem provides a good example of that as the context begins seemingly about the numbing of physical pain in a hospital operating room and how difficult some pain is to numb. Soon and especially with the allusion to “male” doctors specifically, the text turns into an emotional reflection by a narrator that has been used in a relationship, perhaps by a male, that caused a lot of pain. Suddenly, there is a sense of comfort, like the spinal block should offer physically, by the simple gesture of kindness and empathy of a male shoulder, a male who has no agenda other than to bring that comfort. The poem ends with the realization that no intimate relationship has ever provided that same level of trust or security. Does that mean one is not possible? We are left here with several different options and that means the reader will walk away with some interesting things to consider. --Jim McGarrah