I’ve spent enough hours on a gurney to know
my remaining years are probably numbered
in single digits, after which I may or may not
pass through walls and join my kin
on some eternal, cloud-filled playground.
I’m not meant for heaven’s fluffy
non-landscape, or any of hell’s nine circles.
Mine is the dogma of earthly pleasure,
the crisp, made bed, the fresh linens,
the fucking, the food, the cold glass of beer.
I’ve seen the Cubs win a pennant,
my two-year-old toddle out the door
and return a savvy businesswoman.
I’ve burped my fussing grandnephew—
seven pounds in an oversized onesie
labeled, Ladies, I Have Arrived—
and already nagged him about college.
I am still in love with the scent
of freshly mown grass. Even though
my days are flaming red, veins burning
from eight cycles of chemo, even though
I feel in my blood I am inching away,
I’m not prepared for the story
that goes on without me, not ready
to relinquish the rapture
of a backyard nap in my hammock,
or the Quantum Physics for Babies
cardboard picture book
I’ve slowly read and re-read to Noah,
or the many pounds of salted cashews
I’ve yet to eat, pastrami and eggs,
peach margaritas, pizza with extra
cheese and pepperoni…
I’m not ready to give up rocking
to Beggar’s Banquet, the best album
ever made. I treasure my baggy blue jeans,
my threadbare, Harvard sweatshirt.
I’m not willing to abandon
my second favorite place in the world:
the car cemetery next to the Super 8
where—for the once road-worthy—
time continues its remorseless interrogation.
from Blood Narrative (Main Street Rag Poetry Press, 2021)
"First Things First"
No wonder our parents were so intent
on teaching us what to do when
the phone’s ringing, someone’s at the door,
our hand is on a hot stove,
and we need to go to the bathroom—
to be absolutely certain, as adults,
in that baffling shuffle of choices,
where to begin, and why.
You’d think it would be obvious
in the echelon of things to do,
but someone at some point
dragged a cart from a barn
and placed his horse behind it—
the earliest failure of common sense—
man and beast standing in rain,
puzzling over their lack of movement.
from Bad Behavior (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2012)
Grünewald's Body of Christ
The leaden face emptied.
And here, a wood-slivered arm,
the torso's bilious patina, toenails bleeding
like wineskins, the foot's gaunt curvature.
Mattias Grünewald paints
a syphilitic messiah, scabbed putrefact,
"mortal anthropos," like radical sex,
Christ dead from love—an altarpiece
for patients at the Isenheim hospice—
thousands thinned by a spirochete,
chancred, in white linen, lifted by monks
to face a polyptych—body, soul
and faith, the "suffering servant."
The gothic of St. Anthony's panel:
a gnome crouches, lumpish,
festered, his right foot webbed,
the only figure recognizably human,
his left hand clutching Anthony's breviary.
Syphilis came to Europe from Haiti,
the old story goes, spread
by Columbus' sailors (the Cardinal
of Gurk, a bishop coadjutor
longtime sufferers). Rumor had it
Henry VIII contracted the pox
from Cardinal Wolsey constantly
at his ear. Though sexual ailments
were commonly blamed on the French,
syphilis was known as the Spanish evil.
But in Grünewald's painting,
syphilis becomes a part of God—
ravaged, swollen and sordid—a Christ
who contains all—pneumocystis,
Kaposi's sarcoma, T-cells diminishing,
each anonymous daughter and son—
a careful arrangement of muscle, of bone
fetus-curled in a mother's arms,
his gravecloth's fluttering drape,
a last brushtroke before the light fails.
from Heart Murmur (Bordighera Press, 2009)