A New Poem

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother in-law.  She is trying to get on a waiting list for a liver transplant and the process is long and sickening.  Her liver has completely failed, which means that she is on medications that are designed to do what the liver would normally do.  The medications keep her alive but they also make her very tired and often very sick to the stomach.

If you pray, then I ask you to pray.  As for myself, I am more of a spiritual atheist: that means I don’t pray to a God who is “out there,” but write poems instead, as if to wake up the god that lives inside.  This is only one of many attempts to wake up that god.

Cirrhosis of the Liver

for Shirley

When I think of you, I think of your teeth
swimming in Polident, the false gums
pink as a rat’s tail.
I think of your small feet that carried you
to Wal-Mart to buy a new pair
of Jeans, the first
you’d worn since Bill died.

I think of Douglas firs and Grand
firs, of Scotch pine and red cedar.
I think of their skin,
the thick shell stretched
and filled with ridges.
I think of the chestnut in autumn
its leaves scattered across the yard
like torn slips of paper.

When I think of you
I think of the soda pop you used to drink
before your heart went haywire.
I think of the silver beads
of carbon dioxide that clung
to the sides of the glass
then let go and rose to the surface
where they popped and dissolved
into the warm kitchen air.

I think of eggs and pancakes.
I think of unsalted crackers,
gin rummy, eight ball, and bowling.
I think of open-toed sandals
bath towels and wooden spoons.
I think of the television 
you liked to leave running
when the house was silent
and everyone but you
was sleeping. When I think of you

I like to imagine you in the morning
pulling weeds from the garden
the earth damp and dark
and sweet as molasses.
Or sitting up in bed
suddenly awake
at two in the morning
your hair flattened over your ears
like a bed of dead daffodils.

When I think of you
I think of the tundra swans we discovered
resting on the ice near Farmington Bay.
It’s been three years since we saw them.
Three years in December.
When I think of you I think of the swans
rising over the bay
their yellow-tipped beaks
pointing north
their black feet folded
like maps
into the white pockets of their bodies.

When I think of you I try to think of myself
inside you – a light
in the attic of your brain,
a whisker in your throat
that makes you cough then sneeze.
I imagine myself
a single platelet of blood,
standing at the threshold of your liver
knocking my head against the door
as if it were capable of opening.
As if it would let me in
and lift this toxic burden from my back.

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