from all this–from machines
and plastic tubes, from the shooters
with their dyes, from the guys
who scan your organs
for the truth, from waits in cold rooms
whose lights illuminate your life
and make it…nothing. I respected
the darkness in you–your son
dead in a senseless crash, the stroke
itself, your husband’s absence.
from its suitcase of slightly sweaty skin
across to the diaphragm, a divide keeping
him from me, now breached, the world now open
crawling up a well-used black rubber tunnel
to my ears, calling to me, waiting to begin
knowing, albeit briefly, the mysteries within.
in, out, in, out, in, out, the rhythm of breath,
repetition, ancient, magnificent, humble,
sucking in precious oxygen, grabbing it softly,
a deal in exchange for recently used air
I imagined something Victorian.
Perhaps I imagined a lecture hall filled with side-whiskered,
Sherlockian doctors, arguing case histories
like gentlemen playing chess with death–
or perhaps I imagined priests,
performing absolution at the bier.
underground conference room.
I was unsurprised at the bitter
coffee, the keening of the projector, the recalcitrant
bangs from the water pipes–
filled with meds both past and present
and read out loud the labels of those we stopped,
why he needs oxygen at night, and the rescue inhaler.
Between pills it’s my job to ask in a generic way
because his story needs a prop.
His ex called yesterday, Only one ex, one’s enough,
If you had told me thirty years ago,
when I took call on endless sleepless nights
on incandescent AIDS wards full of fear
on which I tried to do the healing work
of drawing blood and packing leaking wounds
and viewing films of microbes gone berserk
in lungs and brains of patients wasted frail
to postpone certain death from HIV,
if you had told me then that I would see
a family with an AIDS tale just as bad—
today, two parents with disease but
The door opens, we pause again.
Voices singing in the lobby drown out
her parents and the specialists alike.
I think they added bells this year,
the cheerful carols carefully chosen
to celebrate the season, not a faith.
A guitar picks up a riff, the same
one my daughter played so long ago
in her one embarrassed solo
on the school stage. A song both
fitting and ironic, about keeping up
the fight. Down the hall, their daughter
listens to the voices rise and
the limp lettuce, pale tomato
sliver, open the small
I don’t eat mayonnaise.
I pour my milk, set the carton
the red Jell-O. If I don’t look
up, I won’t be where I am.
not his own, stares,
not speaking, not noticing
brown stain on the front.
His hair stands straight up
Neither dead nor alive,
In three months,
The box opens.
Tested, probed, scanned,
She learns the cancer has recurred,
In which case she is dead.
Or it has not returned,
In which case she is–not alive.
Boxed in once more,
Neither dead nor alive,
She again awaits the allotted period
Until the box is opened,
A quantum superposition which only death
Can collapse into a state of certainty.
she said she wanted
every bone in her body
flirting with the idea of flying,
knowing she admires the flitting of butterflies
from one pollen hive to another
open and close open and close
like they are breathing
like her wings are lungs