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
All day the close sky sat on my head like a crown
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.
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!”
Easter Sunday chaos, I arrive at usual nine a.m.
the friendly Jamaican CNA Darryl is concerned:
fluid line out—everything now wet, bedclothes and
floor—alarms ringing on the six-legged stand
holding computer monitors for pain, liquids,
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,”
“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
snaps (it’s the ATRIUM OCEAN WATERSEAL
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
Eleven days after surgery we’re going home!
Insurance won’t cover portable commode so I’m
shopping Walgreen’s waiting for
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.