Work out. Ten laps.
Chin ups. Look good.

Steam room. Dress warm.
Call home. Fresh air.

Eat right. Rest well.
Sweetheart. Safe sex.

Sore throat. Long flu.
Hard nodes. Beware.

Test blood. Count cells.
Reds thin. Whites low.

Dress warm. Eat well.
Short breath. Fatigue.

Night sweats. Dry cough.
Loose stools. Weight loss.

Get mad. Fight back.
Call home. Rest well.

Don’t cry. Take charge.
No sex. Eat right.

Call home. Talk slow.
Chin up. No air.

Arms wide. Nodes hard.
Cough dry. Hold on.

Mouth wide. Drink this.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

No air. Breathe in.
Breathe in. No air.

Black out. White rooms.
Head hot. Feet cold.

No work. Eat right.
CAT scan. Chin up.

Breathe in. Breathe out.
No air. No air.

Thin blood. Sore lungs.
Mouth dry. Mind gone.

Six months? Three weeks?
Can’t eat. No air.

Today? Tonight?
It waits. For me.

Sweet heart. Don’t stop.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

"Heartbeats" from Love's Instruments (Tia Chucha Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Melvin Dixon. Used with the permission of the Estate of Melvin Dixon.

The newborn fell asleep beside her mother who died in the early morning                from a blood clot in her brain.
Quiet and lovely, Beth’s death was a loss for millions of little girls.

Their bodies were found five miles apart in the kitchens of their homes.
The boy’s mother died on a kidney machine. He died at nineteen from a                  virus.      

He drank too much one night and then died from an overdose.
He was shot in the back. The other was stabbed and slashed repeatedly.

He passed through the door of the hotel with a little pistol in his pocket. 
Both were bachelors. Both lived alone. Both were discovered at 8 a.m.

The deadly fire they started in the rafters spread to his crib.
My feathers ruffle. There’s no record of his death, but he died.

Things get better, get worse and then your body is cold and stiff on a table              in the mortician’s room.
Your feet, once tucked into your mother’s body, warm and slippery, are
          now hidden inside a box.

“Closure and Closure” was first printed in The Paris Review, Issue 143 (Summer 1997). Included in Detective Sentences (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2001) by Barbara Henning © 2001; Prompt Book: Experiments for Writing Poetry and Fiction (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2021) by Barbara Henning © 1997.

U.S. Navy Nurse, the Philippines, 1942

I looked around the scene, and saw the men,
some dead, some twisting on the tables, smell
of antiseptic, smell of blood, and then
I looked outside where more waited. I tell
you I knew nothing of the Philippines,
of mangoes, houses on stilts, nipa huts, 
the smell of copra in the air, gangrene
and amputations, lice, the surgeon’s cuts
I had to sew back up, of carabao,
the glisten of the small steel instruments
catching the glint of lantern light, red pile
of gauze. But still I never cried
until one day when (I did not see how)
my hand was grabbed as I passed by, intent,
by a young man who gave me half a smile
and held me with his hands and eyes—then died.

From Tongue of War: WWII Poems (BKMK Press, 2009) by Tony Barnstone. Copyright © 2009 by Tony Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.