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77–A man both living and dying.
His tumor is a root system pared back. His mood blows in the breeze, swinging back and forth.
Here is a second poem from the cycle I’m calling ‘Slow Business’.
(The business, if you haven’t guessed it, is that of dying.)
Unlike the essays published in this project – written months or even years after the incidents they describe – this poem (like most in ‘Slow Business’) was written as the events occurred.
It serves, in this way, like a sketch. An immediate, simple renderings of what I saw right in front of me. A reaction. A record.
A poem can do that; it can capture the seen and felt, without process or processing. Unlike prose, it requires neither connective tissue nor context – just some words, strung together convincingly (or not).
After the radiation and the chemotherapy, my father spent a lot of time sitting. Was he resting? Was he thinking? Was he contemplating his death? Many times I went to him and I asked. He always answered. Still, I had no idea.
Ultimately, a great part of his lived experience remained impenetrable to me. As did much of his dying.
In this poem, I sketch out one of those moments using the metaphor of a snag to make sense of what I saw right in front of me but could not understand. A man both living and dying, like a standing tree teeming with life – which is also dead.
My father sits in the yard
under the trees he planted
when we first moved in.
Twenty years later, they are twenty
feet tall, with yellow, hand-shaped leaves
that cover the ground
and stick to your bare feet
as you crunch your way
to sit on the wooden rocking
bench at his side.
His expression is stern,
even with sunglasses on. His fingers
don’t rest, won’t
stop moving, little twitches
though he’s shaded
from the amenable sun.
What are you thinking about
Poppa? knowing the answer
will be nothing. Nothing.
His tumor is a root
system pared back.
His mood blows
in the breeze, swinging
back and forth, held
on frail branches
and ground. But falling,
Dad: while it is your mortality
held like a flower
between the pages
of a book, it’s your mind
which is suddenly
a thing –
a hollow trunk
in a living, thriving forest.
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