You were right.
That IV was no good.
Looking at his arm all swollen like that,
I thought, “That says it all.”
I’m sorry we kept bothering you.
“Please don’t wake him for vitals,”
You told us.
Sometimes we don’t see the signs.
I was hoping she would stay home longer,
That you would have had more time together.
She liked starting school every September.
She loved that backpack.
I’m sorry it always took so long
To get into the room.
I’m sorry I took so long to call you back.
I liked our
We used to trade off,
He hated trees dying in our living room.
I always loved the blue spruces
decorated on my December birthday
But his father fell near theirs
dying in their living room
one childhood night.
So we’d have a year with tangled lights, a crooked stand
he sometimes helped me put together
Then a year with presents stacked on the corner table,
with no dry needles to sweep.
Turn and turn again
a solstice pendulum.
A ring for each alternating year
That was before the fog that eats my
Howard F. Stein
His rapidly metastasizing cancer
was not his only problem:
He was not only running out
of life, he was running out of metaphors.
Metaphors had sustained him
for the four months since
they discovered the spot.
He started out
losing weight as “The Incredible
Shrinking Man”; then he became
Gregor Samsa for a while;
briefly he was the consumptive Violetta,
soon followed by Ivan Ilych.
He even remembered Susan Sontag
and Solzhenitsyn and so railed
at his wasting. He leaped
from metaphor to metaphor the way
a stone skips over water. He asked
little black boy
fold your hands into your lap
and put your lap into order
now cry me a little song.
sing me a little note about me
caring about what you care about,
then dream me a little dream.
and when your tears turn into
oases and exposed rivers
and pour me a little cup
fill it with every broken promise
and the unfulfilled moments of
belated birthdays and first days
of the school year when your
clothes were unkempt…then
tell me a little secret
about how–you wish your
I try to concentrate on the weather. Everything
deliquesces into simile.
Sleet ticks onto the windshield like a clock.
Truth blinks on/off like a stuck traffic signal.
It is better to live in the light but the light is flickering.
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak-
Poetic paradox understood too late
or maybe just in time. What time is it?
A small white poodle in a quilted coat
lifts a leg to pee against a hydrant
on Sixtieth Street, and we are nearly there,
early, of course. And since (she
Politicians…were quick to rise to the defense
of a particularly vulnerable population. As a group,
dual-eligibles [Medicare-Medicaid] have incomes below
the poverty rate…and take an average of 15 medications a day.
January 14, 2006
This is how it works:
as wealth trickles down
to the poor and old
it turns into pills.
So M and S, their slender portfolios
long since depleted, can still
compete for bragging rights.
I take twenty a day, says M.
Ha! counters S, I take so many
they had to put in a port.
At twenty, I started working the HIV
ward, midnight to morning. Left my husband
sleeping, mouth-open to the air, to
drive through the dark body of the city.
Every shift, the warning about infections.
Me sliding on booties, disposable
gown and gloves. Even through the mask,
you could smell decay, the way viruses
swept through bodies. I did what was needed:
held hands through double-gloves, took blood
or confessions when I could, told off-white lies
to thin cracked lips that knew the truth.
Once, a year or so into it, I stuck
Howard F. Stein
We know so much about you–
Your blood, your urine, your internal organs.
We can see everything.
There is precious little that
Is not wrong with you medically.
Still, you do not listen to us.
You miss appointments;
You don’t go to referrals we’ve made.
Do you defy us or merely not understand
How dire your condition is?
You could die at any time,
We have told you more than once.
Still, you muddle along as if all we know
Does not matter. Tell me, what
Is missing from our story?
One: secretarial computer screen:
appointments, cancellations. Two: machine
we’re here for, registering your heart’s each pump
with grainy images that throb and jump
in sync with the obscure interior.
Three: anticlimactic VCR
screen, a tiny, garish old cartoon
squawking and jerking in the darkened room.
Past these respective renderings of vision
we move next door. Here the examination
is palpable, is stethoscope to chest:
breath in, out, raise your arms, stand, squat, and rest.
I’m sitting, staring vaguely at the sky–
from the ninth floor, a pale blue vacancy.