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
I never grew Virginia creeper,
this twining shiny vine rapidly
unfurling its five-leafed bouquet,
yet it crept into my garden, stealthily
wrapping its strong tendrils round
stems and bushes and trees
in lusty demanding embrace,
attaching onto the house foundation,
embedding into cement and wood.
This boy of mine tried
to be a sportsman.
Jane and I watched his team,
heedless ducklings clutching
plastic bats behind the T-ball,
the ball up high, right there
where they couldn’t miss it,
but they did. When shouts from
other parents roused us from our chat,
we tossed encouragement
into the ballfield’s air, no matter
whose kid got a hit.
Things got serious the next summer,
one level up onto the honest-to-God
Little League ladder, raucous parents
You are a big man, a little heavy, but nothing
that can’t be fixed by daily, brisk walks
or swept away by a
dose of cancer and a blast of treatment.
You have been called from your glass enclosure
to help me.
A productive, bronchial cough
is still with me–too long.
Chinese practitioners call this a lurking pathogen
tossing antibiotics into my weary kidneys to excrete
as a mindful French woman
with her midday steamed leeks.
we drop our holiday mood
like a heavy sweater in the heat
when that call sends us reeling
as leukemia sucks us
into its bell jar, rings
our ears, jangles
We can’t lower that volume
but distraction is at hand–
tickets to Porgy and Bess—
though I forget it begins
with a knife fight.