Dennis Sampson

Sources And Outcomes & Through The Hospital Corridor
October 18, 2021 Sampson Dennis

Sources And Outcomes


Too many moons crossing in solitude
the landscape of the heart,
too many crooked strokes of lightning
giving the cottonwoods their singularity again
and the wind preceding the thunderstorms
that terrified the arthritic dog seeking sanctuary
under the bed. Now the mother I knew
is scarcely known in memory anymore,
her slippers paired perfectly on her side
of the bed under which our Spaniel quivers,
my father with his wife’s consent lingering
now and then over an unrealistic female in
Playboy, too many memories of the living
that seemed as if they all were eulogies,
Uncle Harlan’s death for example
dramatized in a letter to a close friend that was
preparation for one’s own death,
what frightens us as prolonged thunder does
the ancient Spaniel whose shoulders shudder.
Valhalla. Uncle’s massive heart attack
swimming laps. Our world’s wars.
And for me
the three quarters moon over the prairie in October
and fragrance of sage on the hillside
above a river shimmering like broken glass
that flows through the heart that knows,
that can’t articulate its secret no matter how
many times it winds its way into words,
the feeling of the slick wind that bends and sways
the birches and blows a piece of reckless cellophane
up against a barbed wire fence, beginning
and end, sources and outcomes,
impossible to tell apart,
the intuition and the labor that led you
here to a small house here in mid-winter.


Through The Hospital Corridor

Bent over the resplendent old, doors left half open, name tags taped up saying
Harriet and Edna and Archibald–orderlies in light blue smocks labor to console.
There is only eternal daylight of fluorescent glow, so brilliant you could never hide
from the illness constantly quarreling with the soul. Then that elderly voice, falsetto,
that speaks with such precision of its dreadful plight–“help, help”–paired pleas
repeated throughout the day, the night, as if to an intercessor nowhere to be found.
The great grandmother raving on the phone deep in the interior falls silent. There is calm
before the door swings inward showing the single bed, its railing turned down,
with the yellow cotton blanket wrapped tightly, the single pillow, fluffed,
fresh linen for the patient soon to be admitted after being immobilized by a stroke
potting geraniums with his daughter. And there are no days anymore
for the octogenarian who loved to run her hand over the forehead of her
dachshund that had leaped into her lap–only hours passed over by the rising,
the setting sun–like a child lost in the dark–hours that don’t belong to anyone.
Then the pain breaks loose, and it races around like a mole sought by a Siamese
cat in the garden after dark, finally diving headlong into its labyrinth. Hours
become moments transformed into the long groan. It is timelessness now
that turns the irrelevant hands of the Swiss watch first tried on in front of a mirror
in 1955, dangling from the bone of a wrist, timelessness stepping onto the ballroom
floor in a floor-length gown, palm pressed firmly against the spine for the dip one has
been waiting for, letting long blonde hair almost touch the linoleum, the slide and glide
to Ellington’s “Lotus Blossom.” Solitary dancers stare into one another’s eyes. Then the “help, help” again as though through a tunnel in the night, the lights of these monasteries turned off, turned down. “Help, help”–the night nurse’s laughter crescendos after the sneeze she has tried to stop. And the one who raved on the phone lies back staring up from on top of the covers, preparing for the argument of tomorrow falling toward the fact that is like no other.

Dennis Sampson was born and raised in South Dakota. His seven volumes of poetry include The Double Genesis, Forgiveness, Constant Longing, Needlegrass, and For my Father Falling Asleep at Saint Mary’s Hospital, Within the Shadow of a Man, and The Lunatic in the Trees. The recipient of grants from The Virginia Council on the Arts and The North Carolina Arts Council, Sampson’s poems have appeared in such magazines as The American Scholar, The Ohio Review, The Hudson Review and many others. He has taught as Writer-in-Residence at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, as the Visiting Poet in the M.F.A Program in Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington, and at Wake Forest University.