54: coma in cantos, canto 11

canto 11

in the annals
I could write he opened
his eyes as Napoleon,
Churchill, Lincoln,
Betty Ford.

in the annals
I could write
him saying
famous sayings
from Twain or Shakespeare
and laughing about them,
merrily as he had always been.

in the annals
I could write us all,
my mother and I,
the doctor,
standing bedside
like people
doomed to mourning
and giving up,
like people on a hot
shoulder staring
at the fuel-starved
heap there,
doomed to walk
away, when,
suddenly, he opens
his eyes,
and he says, I’m home,
and we cheer,
and life goes back
to our memories
of it,
when, suddenly,
that annal, that turn
of history never happens,
and I answer
the phone
and my mother says
into her’s,
He’s awake, He’s alive,
He’s awake, He’s alive,
but, she said,
and I said, elated,
But what?
But, she said,
Just get here as fast as you can.

I did
and the verbs proceeded normally.
Upon entering the room
(think what I was imaging,
imagine what I was imagining,
imagined, had imagined,
would image, think
the possibilities through)
I saw him standing
at the mid-morning
windows, his face
at the glass,
a hand at the end
of his taut arm
like a hand pressed
to an unseen wall
or like a hand forcing
to stationary a heavy
pressuring body or force,
or pushing away,
and my mother
held away by that hand
and the doctor beside her
held back by that hand.

dad, I said, entering,
Dad, I said, You’re awake,
you’re alive,
and he moved the palm
of his hand
toward me
but his head remained
motionless
and he said,
Dad, I am no Dad
of you, he said.
And he said,
“Hear me, grave fathers! noble tribunes, stay!
For pity of mine age, whose youth was spent
In dangerous wars, whilst you securely slept;”
Titus Andronicus, he said,
and he said,
“What were you snarling all before I came,
Ready to catch each other by the throat,
And turn you all your hatred now on me?
Did York’s dread curse prevail so much with heaven?”
Richard the Third, he said.
And I repeat, he said,
this is no wife of mine,
“here’s a simple line of life: here’s a small trifle
of wives: alas, fifteen wives is nothing! eleven
widows and nine maids is a simple coming-in for one
man: and then to ‘scape drowning thrice, and to be
in peril of my life with the edge of a feather-bed;”
The Merchant of Venice, he said.
And I’ll give it to you
again, again, I’ll give it to you,
this doctor’s no doctor
of mine, though I know him
by the name Richard Crenshaw,
“Send out more horses; skirr the country round;
Hang those that talk of fear. Give me mine armour.
How does your patient, doctor?”
You should know that one,
he said, now turning to us
and lowering his hand, now
a softening of his lips,
and a hand to the white hair
on his chin,
he said, Don’t misunderstand.
I might love you,
I know you, my wife,
not my wife. And I know
you as son and not my son,
and I, a neurologist, physician:
“But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!”
Mark Twain, he said.

no, don’t misunderstand,
I know all of you,
but all of that is no longer,
he said. I can recall it all,
remember it all.

remember it all? I said.
Remember everything,
my mother said.
Amazing, Crenshaw said.

what the hell does
no longer mean? I said.
You were never one for dictionaries,
my father said, turning to the window,
turning back to the window,
turning away from all of us.
Crenshaw, the fascinated,
Crenshaw, the ever curious,
asked, The first verse of Leviticus.
Give us the first verse.
My father said,
“The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.”
He added, Nonsense,
of course. He said,
foolishness, he said.
What need would a grand god
have of a few sheep or doves.

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