Ethna McKiernan

Oh, Maria
One Thursday at Homeless Services

More days than I’d like
I remember Maria staggering toward me
into the lobby and dying in my arms—
how I was wrong to think we needed to call Detox
rather than the ambulance, how she couldn't, except
with wild eyes, speak, but shook
and shook and shook.  
The bright lights of the lobby
made me dizzy.    
Maria slumped against me
and I yelled for water, water, someone get water,
but when I held the glass to her lips,
her fingers pushed mine away
and she began to choke.
I just didn’t get how fast
she was slipping away, how
I should have yelled for more help
and put her on the floor to do CPR,
if I remembered, God help me, how.
No pulse, but I kept holding her.
I remember paramedics
coming in and in an instant Maria
was on the floor with her shirt up
and a defibrillator striking her chest
with one shock after another as her head
bounced back upon the pillow they’d placed
beneath her. They took her away
just as fast, hoping for a heartbeat.
Oh, Maria, how I laughed at your antics weekly,
how you kept your tent
so neat, how when I took you to get groceries
at Rainbow Foods with your food stamps,
we pushed the same grocery cart
as if we were sisters out for a stroll.

Ethna McKiernan has been twice awarded a Minnesota State Arts Board grant in poetry. Her first book, Caravan, was nominated for the Minnesota Book Award. Her work has been widely anthologized. Her fourth book, Swimming With Shadows, was published in 2019 by Salmon Poetry (Ireland), which will also bring out her Selected Poems in 2021. McKiernan works in Street Outreach for a non-profit serving the Minneapolis homeless population.



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