Poems by Ron Riekki

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by Ron Riekki

From Canary Winter 2016-17

Ron lives in a central Florida swamp with cypress and white ibis and the occasional sand hill crane and seven-foot alligator.

I walked into the hospital and the nurse said, “Get her out of here before she dies on me.”

It destroys hospital statistics when patients die.

The nurse could argue that she wanted the patient to be around family and not E.R. ruins.

When I transport patients to hospitals, hospices, homes, I look out the windows. When the patients are stable, I glance at the road, the side of the road, the woods that fill with night, become soaked in moon, and I see absence.

A Tallahassee judge recently ruled Florida black bear hunting as legal.

How many black bears are in Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, and Indiana combined?

Susan Mitchell’s poem “The Bear” opens with a bear dancing and then it becomes just an image of a bear, lost to memory.

There are no black bears in those four states.

Ten black bears in Rhode Island.

Fifty in Alabama, according to blackbearsociety.org.

When I go to work, I pass by a gun store that changes quotes on its sign every week, saying things like, “It’s Father’s Day, buy him a rifle” or “All we are saying is give guns a chance.”

When patients seem like they’re dying, you can feel a sense of controlled panic coming from the EMTs. You can feel a hint of brilliant fear in their voice when they yell up to me that the blood pressure keeps rising, or falling. The worry is when numbers suddenly change. You don’t want patients who are hypo- or hyper-. You don’t want brady- or tachy-. You want homeostasis, that perfect state of homoios and stasis. A word that came into being in 1926— just before the rice rat became extinct, just after the Kenai Peninsula wolf became extinct, just before the heath hen became extinct, just after the California grizzly bear became extinct.


From the Old English becuman, ‘to be or do something.’

The jarring of ‘to be’ with ‘extinct.’

I remember a patient, fever-filled, looking up past me, through the ceiling, up into the neck of God, deep into the accidents of angels, the way that their wings batter together to crack open death.

I wonder sometimes if all of the unseen hypothetical bears could be turned into one patient in the back of an ambulance, a solitary bear with ventricular fibrillation, a bear with a ballistic trauma, a sucking chest wound, how there might not be apathy then, how the natural inclination is always to stop bleeding, to continue breathing, to keep life.

In the military, when I was in 30 Foxtrot, a petty officer made me go around the building killing birds. I did my best to fake their deaths. I pretended to smash eggs, heads, but he watched me, insisted I kill. I went to a pastor on base and he asked if I was a consciousness objector. I told him that so much killing is done for sport, to cure boredom, to earn medals, to turn hate to smoke, to fight dead fathers, to try to please those who actually find no pleasure in death. I told him none of this. I simply said I wasn’t. I was afraid not to be. I was cryptology. I helped transmit messages of coordinates for death. I was young. After, I had survivor’s guilt. I had PTSD. I had to go to China, to get away from America. I did. I remember looking inside an ambulance in Shanghai and being amazed at how filled it was with nothing. Simply a bench inside. Traditional Chinese medicine doesn’t allow for the extravagance of bag-valve masks and double-A battery flashlights and nasopharyngeal airways that clutter American ambulances. They say that if a crash happens, the person most likely to get killed isn’t the patient, but the paramedic in back; they’ll be hit by so much flying debris—oxygen tanks and AEDs and life-packs—that they’ll have multiple accidents. Accidents on top of accidents. It’d be like being drowned by acid rain and water pollution and climate change all at the same time. It would be like being hunted by semi-automatic rifles that shoot over a hundred rounds a minute.

How many black bears are in Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota combined?

I once transported a gunshot victim who had severe diarrhea. It was the fastest I’ve ever seen my partner drive. He was panicked with worry simply because he didn’t want to deal with the smell.

What are the five senses of extinction?

What is the odor of vanishing?

I think of statistics.

There are no black bears in those five states. Illinois has over twelve million people, no black bears.

Sometimes, when I have a stable patient and I know they’re doing well, I’ll look out the window for a few seconds and see marsh that seems so filled with sky, as if heaven has collapsed onto earth, as if happiness lies in the breath of water and I wonder when we’ll wake up, when we’ll breathe the air of the divine, instead of all of this wind so filled with collision.

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