Summer 2006

 

 

 


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Dying

James C. Henderson

My uncle, my father’s brother, is dying.
It’s not the cancer that’s killing him.
The radiation has dissolved the blood vessels
in his abdomen. He’s bleeding to death.

He was at the hospital this morning,
getting another transfusion to replace the blood
he received  two days ago, which he passed or threw up.
He is borrowing time with the blood, time

to finish his will, meet with the undertaker,
pick the hymns to be sung at his funeral in the Methodist church,
to write his obituary: “Preceded in death by parents;
survived by wife—” who lies asleep in the bed beside him.

All has been explained: Once the transfusions cease,
his blood pressure will drop, he’ll be given morphine for the pain,
his blood pressure will drop still lower, his brain will starve
for oxygen—confusion, a dream, sleep.

At the hospital, all the people come and go
as if in a train station. Whether harried or calm,
with children or old, they are all waiting for the same train.
A long black snake that moves slowly through a field of snow.

It’s nothing to fear. It’s the evening train to supper after work,
rocking gently, a ripple in his coffee, his reflection golden in the window.
The long train ride to Chicago to sell his first insurance policy.
The train home from college to the house in which he was raised.

The house is empty now as when he returned from burying his mother,
each room still. Rain drips from the eave outside the bay window.
The graham cracker odor of the cocker spaniel permeates the den,
his father’s pipe smoke, the smell of burnt leaves.

A cupboard bangs in the kitchen, and his mother calls to carve the roast.
Slowly, his father rises from his chair, suspenders red, and walks past.
The doorbell rings, and he hears his father yell his name in the hallway.
He runs sideways down the steep stairs from his bedroom.

The front door is made of dark oak, small panes of wavy glass.
He opens it. His fiancée smiles. Her eyes are the pale blue of lilacs.
Her skin is as smooth as the inside of a shell, creamy and pink.

“Well, aren’t you going to let me in?” she says.

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