She could barely move her head
the cancer climbed her spine
reaching upward, clutching vertebrae
reaching out, tendrils grasping
tearing fragile organs.
She would cry, but that would be
an admission of defeat,
a welcome to death.
I cried out for her,
entreated our God
that she might stand by her sons
when they uttered the ancient words,
by her daughter, adjusting
the white lace veil,
but he would not answer,
drawn into catatonia, seeing
severed limbs of children
littering the streets of Sarajevo.
She clings tenuously to life
as I cling tenuously to faith.
First appeared in Community of Poets Magazine Vol. 21,, 1999 and later in
Legal Studies Forum 30:1-2, 2006
My mother was a firm believer
In lecturing, offering vast bits
of knowledge, culled from here and there.
One of her favorites was Edison’s
1% inspiration, 99% perspiration,
and she leaned toward quantity,
“It’s all about hard work, go
clean your room, clutter
will get you nowhere.”
Sitting here today amid
what I prefer to think of
as eclectically arranged items
of potentially great importance,
I see her picture, before
the chemo took her bottled red hair
looking disapprovingly at me,
saying, “You are killing your genius,
Edison would agree with me.”
I want to say to her, “But I’m with Einstein
and if a cluttered desk is evidence of
a cluttered mind, why was hers always empty.
He walks slowly, with a stoop, born of time or knowledge of a world that has seeped away. He smiles, but you cannot tell if it is at the worm slowly crossing the sidewalk, or the young woman pulling on the leash of her far too large dog. He could walk this route with his eyes closed, has done so to prove a point, but he knows he might hit someone. That happens when his eyes are open, given his stoop. He has become a student of shoes, and in summer, of feet. He can tell a great deal about a person by her feet. He prefers women’s feet. They care and it shows. He’s amazed how calloused and dirty men’s feet often are, as if washing them was always going to be an afterthought. He knows the day is coming when he will no longer be able to walk. When that day comes, he hopes they will just put him in a pine box and not wrap him in a blanket and wheel him around, swabbing the drool from his chin. He was a baby once, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience that time either.
We have decided to skip the viewing
to say our farewells in thought
without needing to see her face
frozen in the morticians best attempt
at placidity, erasing the anger, the fear,
the frustration, the pain that made
leaving easier for her than remaining.
We will say the prayers, most of them,
she with fervent hope that they are heard,
I as a member of the chorus.
Some will invoke both the father and son
and spirits will be moved,
and I will reflect, will listen politely
and hope the universe is receptive
to one who is now in transit.
He is only four years old,
has decided he will be
“an X-ray doctor” in a few years
because he wants to see
broken fingers and legs, but
if he sees bad things
he can take them out
and throw them in the trash.
He is more perceptive
that even he can imagine
for without any medical training
it is clear he can see
right through any adult
he comes across, and he
does it was a gentle smile
that says: your secrets are
safe with me, probably, maybe.
They are arrayed like so much stacked
cord wood, pressed against walls
indifferent to their presence.
They watch the double doors leading
to the examining rooms with trepidation,
wanting to be next, wanting more
not to be here at all, knowing the options are none.
He isn’t bothered by it all, this is
old hat to him, he knows them, several
of them know him by name.
He will no doubt be here again
and that doesn’t worry him, for here
he knows he will walk in and walk out,
the alternatives are far less pleasant, some
involved simple pine boxes or urns
suitable for a mantle, but none
of his family have fireplaces and he
would hate to be lost for eternity amid
the toys and tchotchkes that so
define their lives and homes.
While others stare nervously, he hears
his long dead grandmother whisper
“Remember, boychik, pain is God’s way
reminding you that you’re alive.”
Tomorrow I will lie to him
will tell him when he asks,
at least the first ten times he
he does, that she is doing fine,
that she is a tough old bird,
that she’ll outlive us all,
that she’s a Taurus, the bull
and he will remember the end
of their marriage, the Battle
Royal that was the war of divorce,
and he will smile a bit,
and say, “I miss her,” and I
will agree with him.
I do miss her a bit, but even two
and a half years of death have not grown
the size of my missing appreciably.
We will move on to other topics,
will circle back and rerun the tape
for with him every day is a series
of scenes from Groundhog Day, but
in his world, it never snows.