I woke up thinking what a pain in the ass it would be for other people if I were to die. So, I decided not to. Kim told me that people don’t think that way. O.K.
So far in my competition with Death I am undefeated, though Death has a much longer winning streak.
The conversation, along with stories I’ve been reading and hearing about deaths in India and Brazil, led me to remember a poem I wrote about fifty years ago, back when I was more immortal. Bill Whitney was a friend about the age of my father. About my age now.
Bill in Bed
Bill tells me he is having a crisis of faith.
Tears slide into his beard.
He lives in a hospital bed on the glassed in
porch of his home. His dog
dozes at the foot of his bed. The tv sends
lively ghosts from the corner.
He tells me he is afraid he is never going
to get well again. I decide
not to cry. I see creases in the skin
of his bald head propped
on the pillow. I wonder if the radiation
caused them. I remember
my father’s death, a death I missed.
Bill tells me
late last night a friend said it is
all right to lose faith
but not all of it. I decide not to cry.
I picture the tumor locked
into Bill’s brain, tentacles inching into
the wet folds, squeezing,
with pitiless eyes and a beak. Bill says
he envies my trips out west.
I decide not to cry now.
As we talk I stroke Bill’s unparalyzed hand.
I rub his foot, but
I’m uncertain about touching his left hand,
still indented where his rings
were removed. The nurse arrives, takes
Bill’s blood pressure, gives
him a shot, checks his skin and the response
of his pupils. Sue
joins us, kisses Bill’s forehead. Tells
the nurse and me she sleeps
here with him, likes to cuddle in bed,
jokes that they make out
heavily when people aren’t around. I rise
to leave. Sue asks
the nurse to make room in the bed for her when
she turns Bill over. Sure.
I say it’s OK they are married. Sue and the nurse
lift, using some leverage tricks,
relocating the tube leading to the urine bag hooked
on the frame of the bed.
I try to stay out of the way. I’m uncertain
about touching. I’m having a crisis
of faith. Sue leans down
to arrange Bill’s head on a pillow. His good arm
reaches to circle her neck, holding
her in a fierce headlock of an embrace. I
can not see her face or Bill’s.
I am jealous of this broken dying man. I see
now the death I missed.