When I Worked on the Ambulance

by | Mar 30, 2022 | Poetry

I always felt sick. I think it was the constant
movement. Or maybe the constant sickness.

Or maybe the constant poverty, how we made
minimum wage, could feel the minimum of it,

a partner who always tried to do the least work
possible, saying, I’m an EMT, not a janitor,

but it was us who had to clean up the blood
in back after the patient was gone, the night

sitting there exhausted at having to hold up
the moon for so long, how the night, too,

wanted to sleep, but there was another call
on the radio, my partner groaning, doing

back-to-back shifts, meaning twenty straight
hours of this, of taking a person from one

place to another, nothing heroic about it,
how so many people don’t even need to go

to the hospital in the first place, all these
people who, he’d say, are healthier than us,

our eating gas-station fast food daily, cold
hot dogs, hot melted ice cream that we had

to abandon for a STEMI, a call we love,
the ache for someone injured, an actual call,
the love of heart attacks, my partner doing

this careful balance of driving as fast as
possible while as cautiously as possible, all
of these cars on the road ignoring our lights,

ignoring our sirens, the patient scrolling
through his phone, cheery, saying he doesn’t
need to go to the E.R., but this one does,

the calligraphy of his EKG, the waves we
all know, the memorized codes to so many
hospitals, punching them in and the doors

opening up wide, air conditioning hitting
us, a hospital’s mouth swallowing us, again


Photo by Kurayba, used and adapted under CC.

About The Author


Ron Riekki’s books include My Ancestors are Reindeer Herders and I Am Melting in Extinction (Loyola University Maryland’s Apprentice House Press), Posttraumatic (Hoot ‘n’ Waddle), and U.P. (Ghost Road Press). Riekki has edited eight books, including Here (Michigan State University Press, Independent Publisher Book Award), and The Way North (Wayne State University Press, Michigan Notable Book). Right now, Riekki’s listening to Scott Walker’s “It’s Raining Today.” (Also, please do not buy books on Amazon. Buy them through your local bookstore again. Support your local bookstores.)