“Why should you read this? Because you’re going to die someday, if you didn’t know that.”
Mom—From your birth. Yes, that Mom
“Good mushrooms. I found my spirit animal and everything.”
A somewhat good-looking young woman at Burning Man
“Babe, you are a long-shot, but I’ll play anyway.”
Partial lyric of a song heard in an elevator in Las Vegas
“The best poetry I have read since Jonathan Livingston Seagull.”
Shirley O’Connor—A retired PE teacher from my old high school—volleyball, surfing and long-distance track specialist
“If you want to get closer to death herself, really embrace her, flirt with her and maybe get into her bra a little, these are the poems you want to read.”
Ghuru Kharman Ghia—Leader of the Church of the Highlighted Route, the first true Internet religion
“This poetry resolves the conflict between creationism and evilution in a way that satisfies me.”
William Jennings Bryan—Three-time Presidential candidate and prosecutor during the “Monkey Trial” of 1925
“All things considered, you would probably be better off taking up vegetable gardening instead. Fresh vegetables are delicious, and you'll have much better colon health.”
“I’m sorry, I was watching the Taco Bell commercial.”
Fernando, but during the Super Bowl
“You can call me Sugar!”
A young but married woman who was watching the author cash in lots of chips after a successful night playing poker in New Orleans.
“Everybody’s got a plan, until they get hit.”
Mike Tyson—The boxer who bit a guy’s ear off—well, part of it.
The two nurses were leaning over me
as I lay flat in the hospital bed
looking up at them arguing against each other
about which way the two differently-colored wires,
one green and one red,
should be inserted
into the electrical ports on
the small black box with the battery in it.
The wires ran straight to my heart.
(This is done after open-heart surgery—two pacing leads
are left touching your heart and they trace out into the air
so, if your heart stops beating
this little box with the nine-volt
can be used for the jump start
instead of the big external paddles,
which are crude.)
“The red wire goes into the port on the right side—yes?”
“Yes, but forward? Which way? How do you know?”
I was almost seeing the full colors of the nurses
and the room elements again when I started talking,
“Ladies, let’s wait for the doctor now—I’m fine.”
They didn’t shock me, since I was clearly awake,
but I stopped short of telling them about the white.
Everything had faded to white, as if peroxide had cut loose
and my brain had sponged it all as it completely bleached.
I couldn’t hear the alarms at the nurse’s station
or in my room when I was out, but I am sure
they were loudly alerting
about the flat line.
I could barely hear
the guy dressed in white holding the white clipboard,
talking too softly, whispering, and
saying, “Walk toward the light” or
did he say, “Walk toward the right”—you don’t want to
make a mistake like that at such an important juncture.
The white was welcome at first,
blissful in its simplicity and resolution
but seriously, I had to force myself to think,
to ask the question,
“Do I really want this to be over?”
In the hospital across from Heavenly Whispers
there is a waiting room
filled with redwood trees
and a creek
that trickles near the edge.
This coastal variety grows in stands,
each circle surrounding an empty center where
there was once a precursor
tree whose roots have given rise
to the two-hundred-foot-tall trees
that now face the center.
There is nothing in the middle
at all now, no stump
or sign of parenthood,
not even grass
or small plants—
just a patch of naked soil.
The progeny have subsumed
gifting to it
Evelyn has been sick for a while
but fighting a “good fight” and holding up well,
two small houses down
the cul-de-sac from my
one-bedroom free-standing unit here at
Yesterday she made it to group lunch.
I told her I would visit this morning
and her always-round eyes
opened a little more than
they usually do.
She stuttered to a smile
and said, “Fine!”
So, this is no time for the usual things to say.
She is leaving soon.
I won’t be shy this time.
I won’t talk around the edges.
I might not talk at all.
When I arrive I look at her face and see that she is looking at me
knowing why my hand on her cheek is so tender,
and then even in the stupor from her new favorite drug,
the opiate, she sees
that I am selfishly thinking of my own
old cancer, long gone, but with my own death
right behind hers anyway.
She is lying in bed,
under a sheet and a comforter
filled with down feathers,
bagged in a cotton duvet,
her head on big pillows.
She still has a husband
and before he fell and broke his hip,
or vice versa, we played golf.
He’s in the Heavenly Whispers
Assisted Living Building after his replacement
surgery, not moving much on his own.
But she and I have always understood each other,
having more common interests, especially musical theater,
dated each other in high school and both being atheists.
So, I take his place right now
in one role that he could never serve
anyway—to help her reflect—
because he’s still looking forward
to all kinds of things, his mind foolishly random
and busy, not focused, like mine.
She slides a tube across the night stand toward me
and I squeeze her sweet fruit-punch morphine gel
under my own tongue,
not to join her in her death,
but to take the journey
far enough with her, a companion,
as back then, with the summer joint and
small cooler of ice and dark Dos Equis, the corn chips
and the salty beach in the night time.
The grunion were running, scheduled
to flap their bodies against the wet sand
laying eggs and fertilizing them at midnight.
We walked from the car through the black air
to our secret sand dune, laid out
the army blanket and I opened a beer while she lit up,
expertly, in the welcome orange light
of the match, drawing the smoke in,
sharing and laughing unseen by anyone
and invisible to each other,
settling just in time
to see the fish.
They became land animals temporarily,
as a wave retreated exposing their plan
in the surprise light of a large and quickly-rising moon
that broke the horizon full,
climbing up and to the right,
away from the dunes and away from us. But today
I’m on top of the sheet, on top of the duvet
and its feathers that wrap her, bundling her
in her confidence so she’ll be ready for her transition.
She feels like a solid mass
that I can lie next to, again
my head touching hers on the pillow, one arm comfortably
across her chest, my hand cupped on her shoulder.
My mind finally numbs warm
with the forbidden rush of our new drug
starting to circulate through my own body, someone
who is not on the hospice protocol, but rather
part of it.
She whispers, “This is the one real thing you’ve done.
Perhaps knowing you was worth the aggravation
“High Praise for Heavenly Whispers” was first published by Medusa’s Laugh Press in 2017.
The medical journal CHEST first published “Heavenly Whispers,” the title poem of my book of the same name, in July of 2017 on page 210. "Heavenly Whispers” has been re-published by Wising Up Press/Universal Table for their Longer Than Expected web anthology. http://www.universaltable.org/sippl.html
The medical journal JAMA Oncology (part of the Journal of the American Medical Association family) was the first to publish “The Waiting Room," in 2017.
“The Neighbor Lady” was first published in the 2017 Bacopa Literary Review annual collection.