The phone rings four times in the very early morning.
I reach between the bars of the hospital bed
I have been sharing with you for the past hour
and grab the handset of the phone,
hear the long beep of the fax connecting
to announce Art Fest 2001
for the fourth time in the past two days.
Three times I’ve asked to be taken from their list.
Yet still, in this early morning
more intimate than our honeymoon,
the phone rings and rings,
as though even as you decide
to be rid of the world, the world is not quite rid of you.
At the end of your life, we pull ourselves into this house, then into this room.
“Roll the pain up in a ball,” I say, “and toss it away,”
And so, just as we had decided to venture once more out into the world,
the world rolls up into a ball of pain suspended in the air above your bed.
The morphine works only as a distraction.
You moan and make broad gestures, trying to pick the wildflowers
you see growing from the ceiling.
You say they are blue. “Not my style,” you say,
as though any flowers are your style.
You grow imperious,
calling out for chipped ice, not cubed, in the bottle, not the glass.
Knit socks become too uncomfortable, their threads pushing against your skin,
so you ask for those more finely woven.
I ease them over your swollen feet–like trying to squeeze gut over fat sausages.
You bark commands like a general, crabby no matter what the outcome.
Finding fault seems to be your new virility.
It is not the tender moments that fuel the long long days.
Your ill humor and harsh demands
raise a spirit in me where before I wavered.
I need not answer back to feel my strength growing day by day.
I can do anything–deal with any bodily fluid, most abuse.
I can take the blanket off and put it back again
a dozen times in as many minutes.
I take NoDoz for the first time since college,
trying to stay awake to drive you to the doctor’s office.
After so many nights with little sleep,
I pound my hand against the wheel to hurt myself awake.
Trying to make you comfortable
has become an impossibility,
and although it breaks my heart,
it does not break my soul.
You are constantly mad at me,
I always on the way to being a little mad at you.
That’s the way we get through this.
When you fall in the shower,
you lie as though crucified,
your body slight now–
Christlike in your suffering
as the water rains down on you.
When I turn it off and reach out to help you,
”Leave it on!” you snarl,
like a dog protecting his bones.
Ten minutes later, you are too weak
from the hot water
to stand on your own.
I put your arms over my shoulders
to carry you on my back,
like a penitent.
What pain feeds your anger these long weeks?
Is it the cancer or the slow hard truth
as your wife becomes your mother
and you, a child–
are borne once more,
this time away from her.
The dVerse Poets prompt is to write a poem on the subject of birth.