McDoc

Just another Medical Humanities Blog

Poems for June 2010

Posted by mcdoc on June 23, 2010

Liam Rector (1949 – 2007)

This Summer

Sitting in the chair that is somewhere
between the chair of a barbershop and a beauty parlor,
chemo dripping into the catheter
surgically implanted into my chest, into body,
I resolve to smoke at least a half-ounce
of marijuana when I get home.
Perhaps I’ll smoke a pound.
Dizzier than hell must be dizzy,
I’m still able to drive
(though will I be able next week?),
and after getting my ticket punched
I roar out of the Farber Clinic
(how splendid to have cancer in Boston
and fall heir to the astute care
available here)
in the silver sports car I sport
during this debacle,
and heat roars into me
with humidity so deep
it is a theological offense
which I cannot help
but take personally.
I think I may die without god,
my single comic integrity
that I have remained
an atheist in the foxhole,
though I am ready
to roar through the gates
if there are gates.
This summer I’ve joined the grown-old,
the infirm, the shut-ins, and the bald-headed young
(they the hardest to bear), this summer
starting with chemotherapy and ending,
by god it seems almost an ending,
with thirty radiation treatments
which have brought me to my knees.
The marijuana works. It clears things.
How lovely!
How lonely it is sometimes to have cancer.
The grass is as good as it was
when I was sixteen and found grass made the grass
a bit greener over yonder.
Almost as good
as the music I listened to that summer.
This summer I rejoin
the ever-new and always refreshing
“Get naked and stay stoned,” Baudelairian crowd
as I plop stoned in the many rocks
of a river in Vermont
next to my friend’s house
where we have for so many summers
worshipped the backroads
with the sports cars the two of us have driven
since we got the money to get them.
In a sports car I have worshipped this summer
the songs I’ve recorded on tape
driving and listening incessantly,
thinking this may be my last summer
this summer. This summer
I have conversed with death every minute
and found out I have the talent
to submit, to leave, even to flee,
and, in this, there’s nothing exceptional
about me. Why, the sidewalks around Farber
are populated with so many about to die,
many of great courage and grim humor and great shuffle
getting ready, as they can, to go,
looking like they do, like the wounded of Atlanta
lying around in Atlanta just after the burning
of Atlanta in Gone With the Wind.
I am among them.
They are mine, and I am theirs.
Our motto: Fight to live; prepare to go.
This summer it is so good
to hear from friends (one of whom I hear
just died: brain tumor) before I drive on out
for another burn of radiation
before I suit myself with another week of chemo
tied to a portable belt so I can go out
easily to the ocean, to remaining
friends there, before I lean into another joint,
a late century life afloat on a sea of loans,
and hear over the telephone my sixteen-year-old
daughter in Virginia saying she now thinks
she will never ever smoke marijuana
because it is, after all,
just another “gateway drug.”

Louise Glück (1943 – )

Midsummer

On nights like this we used to swim in the quarry,
the boys making up games requiring them to tear off  the girls’ clothes
and the girls cooperating, because they had new bodies since last summer
and they wanted to exhibit them, the brave ones
leaping off  the high rocks — bodies crowding the water.

The nights were humid, still. The stone was cool and wet,
marble for  graveyards, for buildings that we never saw,
buildings in cities far away.

On cloudy nights, you were blind. Those nights the rocks were dangerous,
but in another way it was all dangerous, that was what we were after.
The summer started. Then the boys and girls began to pair off
but always there were a few left at the end — sometimes they’d keep watch,
sometimes they’d pretend to go off  with each other like the rest,
but what could they do there, in the woods? No one wanted to be them.
But they’d show up anyway, as though some night their luck would change,
fate would be a different fate.

At the beginning and at the end, though, we were all together.
After the evening chores, after the smaller children were in bed,
then we were free. Nobody said anything, but we knew the nights we’d meet
and the nights we wouldn’t. Once or twice, at the end of summer,
we could see a baby was going to come out of all that kissing.

And for those two, it was terrible, as terrible as being alone.
The game was over. We’d sit on the rocks smoking cigarettes,
worrying about the ones who weren’t there.

And then finally walk home through the fields,
because there was always work the next day.
And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the morning,
eating a peach.  Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth.
And then going to work, which meant helping out in the fields.
One boy worked for an old lady, building shelves.
The house was very old, maybe built when the mountain was built.

And then the day faded. We were dreaming, waiting for night.
Standing at the front door at twilight, watching the shadows lengthen.
And a voice in the kitchen was always complaining about the heat,
wanting the heat to break.

Then the heat broke, the night was clear.
And you thought of  the boy or girl you’d be meeting later.
And you thought of  walking into the woods and lying down,
practicing all those things you were learning in the water.
And though sometimes you couldn’t see the person you were with,
there was no substitute for that person.

The summer night glowed; in the field, fireflies were glinting.
And for those who understood such things, the stars were sending messages:
You will leave the village where you were born
and in another country you’ll become very rich, very powerful,
but always you will mourn something you left behind, even though
you can’t say what it was,
and eventually you will return to seek it.

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