N  a  p a  l  m     H  e  a  l  t  h     S  p  a  :     R  e  p  o  r  t     2  0  0  9






Solstice, Hawaii


All day the close sky sat on my head like a crown

of cotton

            The sea said Stay Away but I kept pacing

around the cement pool to stand a few yards above

whorled black lava rocks where the red molts of  rock crab

dried by day to husk and crumble and the waves urged everything

they touched to join them.


The week before, every sunset was the same bright show

            A four foot moray eel circled the shallow tide pool below

restless big leopard spots, brown skin breaking surface

as if to prove it could.

                                    And every day I had to look, sipping

at something non-lethal, shirtless

waiting for it to do something—eat a fish—

leap clear of the two feet of water

            to show me its fangs.


Last week, early afternoon the sun was high, dripping

I got out of the cement pool—the eel had come early

It was brighter in the direct light, and soon gauged the swells

frothing over the tide pool’s rim to slither back across the bare rock

into the foam below.

            I wouldn’t see it again.


This evening the horizon opened up a quick band of blue

beneath the gray and allowed the sun its brief show

of pale orange before gathering itself into the red ball

it had been all along, then sunk quick away

            A few days before Christmas and two teenage boys

in Santa hats play catch near the pool across the way

Two red-headed, white-bodied birds hop up and down

off the lava rock wall next door saying Faster Faster.


A fishing boat makes wake for the harbor

and in the perfect glass of the swimming pool

the sun is a pink memory

while everything else heads in

for the long night ahead.




Those Three Damn Words


Always sputtering about to be something, meaning

left on the orphan doorstep, underneath

her obsession with her pains over the years bordering on

hypochondria, swallowing tepid coffee and Advil

digestive problems since forever

diagnosed by naturopaths, acupuncturists and massage

therapists, eating like a frightened mouse even as a child

stealing raisins for their sweetness, sugar straight from the bowl

her baby teeth had fillings...

            And in the upside down world—

“this is science,” said Dad—mercury put into the mouths of children,

into the cavities of decay, leaking into the soft earth of smiles

exploding ordinance from the war waged against Body by the

miners of greed and benevolent ignorance.

                                    Her crooked, dear smile riddled

            with poison seeping from her teeth, but who knows

            how cells mutate in our bodies or come from somewhere else?

The doctors say maybe from her ovaries now gone with her womb last year

maybe appendix, no? That removed 35 years ago, so: where?


            And it’s always the words we die from, the words we imagine

comfort us like Love and Understanding and Surgery

the words race across the room, bounce off ringing ears, dip into

trash cans of regret and speak softly and attempt a lightness that

could never be light again.

            No one will say the three words—the doctor’s gavel—

                        I am sorry

                                    you have cancer

                                                there are risks

                                                            sign these forms

                                                                        you may die...


no one believes these words are their very own, shiny and new

—words minted and mined and delivered to an operating room near you.




“The Old Canceroo, They Call It...”

                                    email from Marc Olmsted, poet


Wheeling my wife out of surgery after 6 hour cancer removal

and prophylactic chemo/ hot water wash, they stopped the

gurney near waiting room where we stood.

First sight of her—head lolled to side full of tubes down

throat, eyes shut hard against it all—I began to break,

relief tears, the tension of past year first not knowing

then knowing it was cancer two months ago, and all I carried

“being strong” wrung out of me, knees buckle in hospital hall

literally held up by my friends.

“We have to get going,” the gurney man said.





“Bram Stoker” she smiled looking up at me

first ICU words uttered after ventilator removed

by blue pulmonary team, then:

              “Don’t let them give me morphine!”

But the god of dream was already on board

and she was anxious

              “You know they could help me with ativan,”

she whispers conspiratorially.

              The kind surgeon comes to check her scar—

wicked Frankenstein zipper from belly to chest—

where he cut out what doesn’t belong.





Hospital ICU corridor teams of magenta, pale green

and sky blue polyester CNA, RN and MD’s pass, chat

nonchallant where I stand speaking cell-phone news:

“She’s doing great!”

              A gurney pushes past, bright purple and white

blanket covers dead body—a woman by size—

brown and grey hair peeking out.





The four pin-prick holes left bloody in my thigh—

              this morning’s surprise kitten leap to lap

while I sat on toilet—look like sideways happy face

or maybe the Pleiades I think, 11:30 p.m. bathtub

after all day bedside wife’s post-operation ICU vigil.

              She’s in cartoon morphine spa where the

kittens are all angels instead of breaking glass

Buddha on sink shelf and wrassling

like drunken cow-pokes on Saturday night.





Moving Nancy from ICU to oncology ward,

Good Samaritan Hospital, San Jose, California

where Mother had hysterectomy and brother Tim

recovered from assorted childhood traumas.

“You’d think they’d have bigger elevators,” our

kind male nurse David says rubbing his shaved head

to figure out how my wife’s gurney and assorted

tubes and machines will all fit in.

“They didn’t have so much technology forty years

ago” I offer, “everything was smaller...”

“Nothing but fun!” Nancy chimes in.





Easter Sunday chaos, I arrive at usual nine a.m.

the friendly Jamaican CNA Darryl is concerned:

Nancy got up by herself in the night and pulled IV

fluid line out—everything now wet, bedclothes and

floor—alarms ringing on the six-legged stand

holding computer monitors for pain, liquids,

minerals, nutrients...

              She looks sheepish and sad, I sit on bed to

stroke her worried forehead when a loud alarm starts

up—they’ve armed the bed itself to ring if she tries

to get up again—now I’ve set it off, my neck

tightens like vise.





“I dreamed we were on a British reality show called:

‘So You Have Cancer!’ and I had to guess which

fluids I would get from the IV stand,” Nancy relates.

“Peter had entered us to pay the medical bills and

we were bickering in front of the hidden cameras,”

she says to Daryl, replacing her damaged tubes.

“I got up in the middle of the night to pee, thinking I

was on the set because I had to empty the commode

myself in the sink and that’s when I tore out my IV






11:15 a.m. Easter Sunday Nancy asleep

after walking, eating, and pulmonary treatment. I ask

busy nurse Shelia about the chest-tube pump, which

looks almost full of red watery fluid, if it should be

emptied. “Do you know about this model?” she


CHEST DRAIN I read silently)

“No, I’m just concerned it’ll back up or something”

“Don’t worry about it!” she hisses.





Don’t Enter Elevator Alone With Robot in bold

script on the five-foot high rectangular cast metal

DRUG DELIVERY SYSTEM I walk next to in hall

(mistook it for some kind of floor buffer first sight)        

              what if I got in the elevator first?

Would it ask me to leave?

Vision of junkie gangs with crowbars stopping

elevator between floors—is the ‘bot armed?

—electric shock delivered like C3PO Star Wars

future now?





Eleven days after surgery we’re going home!

Insurance won’t cover portable commode so I’m

shopping Walgreen’s waiting for Nancy’s drugs.

The sun shines blue sky outside, her tubes all

removed—staples too—the long scar her tattoo of

the real world, no need to buy cool skull t-shirt,

Death is only my shoulder/neck knot, unraveled, she

naps waiting for wheelchair ride out the door.