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My Mother’s Death

         "I did not know the necessity.
         You know, I have been thinking about
         this idea of education.  It is terrible
         when one day merges another.  Last week
         I lost two days.  What you have to remember
         is this:  No matter what they look like
         they are really five years old.
         Some people get frustrated.  I'm sorry, look for it,
         In the purse with the credit cards, under the drawer
         or behind the bed someplace.  Brain damaged.
         But I have thought about this enough today.
         I will think about it some more tomorrow.
         I don't know where it is."
Wrong muscles strain
Wrong muscles relax
The dying person
The face is puffed
The glands are tender
The head at a nearly right angle
from her neck
as though the neck would break
The nurse says,
      "She likes to sleep like that sometimes"
These stones' clarity
sharper than all regarded precious,
gold and the like
A river spans over the region
darker than blood
its coarse soil feeding
vegetation rich with our colors
Soothing, kinder
the rays as in dawn or before rain
I have seen these things
I will see them
The bank's coarse mud far richer with colors,
delightful grain which soothes,
ore more precious, more common,
than gold
I brush the crumbs from my beard,
   my hands shook --
   too many cigarettes and ale
I listen hard to what is said
(faded clippings or those that fade,
somebody's shoes hang,
two black helicopter fans don't work,
the pot bellied stove works,
the usual waiter serves)
In the hospital
they wheel a cadaver
down to the basement
strapped to a stretcher
wrapped in linen
with a towel wrapped around the head
with an opening through which
no face is seen
I notice the
dead illuminated buildings
their sugar-glazed shadows in street light
I work in a grey building
Some of us are old now
There is a statue on the roof, dignified and erect,
overlooking Wall Street
There is an antique wooden indian in the lobby
I always greet the blind man
who sells newspapers and drakes cakes
and overcharges for everything
especially soda and cigarettes
which we buy to break up the day
He can't differentiate the paper we hand him
A blind man depends on honesty
I am impressed by his skill at counting change
Some of us load trucks
We have learned to look busy
or have worked in the Xerox room
for some time, making excellent copies
Some of us drive buses
or push carts full of mail from office to office
We all get paid twice a month
Many of us have done this for twenty years
We never know until it's time
to clear our desks
Yet we will earn a decent salary
working for this city
In between work
we play stupid practical jokes on each other
We like these jokes, they are funny
--Hey Jerry, the next time you'll
get your damn ass kicked for sure
Like the time I threw this at him
(He holds in his hand a piece of metal
from one of the printing machines
It weighs three or four pounds)
Aw, you guys give me a pain in the neck
(He is partially deaf
We don't like him because he always complains)
Won't you look at the boobs on that -- Shit
but the best looking ones are upstairs
You ever take a look at them up there?
Man they're something else!
Meanwhile, our hero combs his hair in the mirror,
undoes his pants to tuck his shirt in,
without warning suddenly turns and flings
the damn thing clear across the floor!
Magnificent
I notice,
how calmly a person will sip ale
A bitter young man maybe twenty or forty
Maybe forty or sixty
We often wear fine suits
We always read the newspaper
In our pockets are credit cards,
an extra check just in case,
and a couple of bucks to placate the muggers
         They say that,
            after he left her
            (poor girl)
            she gained seventy pounds
            His fault, she says
                                  CAUTION
         This bed is for use with oxygen administering equipment
of the nasal type, mask type, and by standard 1/2 length oxygen
tents.  Oxygen tent canopy should not extend below bed
         spring level.
He dreams
      that all things froze
So quiet
      the rays serene, complex,
         still,
He is not sure
he remembers those eyes
Her eyes like moving molecules of ice
            kind of dead
                        (not quite)
She does not move yet
These dancers always pretty in their way
            (even in his dream)
How gracefully she holds her head
When the nurse said she wasn't trying
      to get better
   she could barely move
We fired the nurse
   ("long skilled in techniques of comfort")
   even an ignorant fat woman
Should know better than to torture the patient
Cheryl wrote:
      Do you remember how we fell in love?  You said my dancing was
desperate...
With her hair tied back
She'd perform a perfect somersault
                         awkwardly,
I'd reach for passionately
She said,
         "You feel so good"
She did try to get close to me
She said,
         "Why get so damned angry"
When she was angrier
She wanted to be cruel
Her own reasons
Or intentionally ugly
I don't know
Dear Cheryl, I do not remember having been in love,
                        desperately,
 
C'mon shitface -- the wallet
hand it over whiteface -- the wallet
They're like us
They want money
to go to the movies
"If you live in New York City
it is often necessary to go to the movies"
or so my friend from Iowa tells me
My mother with breast cancer,
said
          Never think that I have not had
             a good life
Then drugs such as demeral and thorazine
                    confused her
Once I nervously watched her
Hold an imaginary cigarette
Blowing out, she exhaled the smoke
Barely lucid
She'd make jokes
Which made it difficult to understand her
Her children
       She wanted to make us feel better
She loved us
Probable metastasis to the liver
She hated death
Let me tell you the truth
Insurance companies are a big rip-off.
Now I'm trying to help you.
Tell your brother to send us those forms.
You know, I can't do a damn thing without them.
What you have to understand is this
(for instance, I'm bending over backwards for you now)
If I help you, quite frankly
(most insurance agents don't understand this)
and you grow up say,
and start your own corporation
(this is only a hypothetical case)
and you need, let's say, a company insurance plan,
well you might call me in to set it up for you.
That's why I'm always willing to bend over backwards
for people like you -- my clients.
I don't mind telling you it's not without
my own self interest in mind.
It's simply a matter of good business.
There ought to be
dignity to grief
At which point
occurs the conversation
in the elevator.
He said: "Thanks man"
I said:  "That's all right, you can keep them"
She said: "My mother, she gave me this beautiful dress
            for Christmas"
He said: "Me, I get this undershirt"
   and he points to his chest
I'm sorry
but this rabbi
is an ass.
"When my own father died
I dug the grave myself
Each shovel of dirt
Singlehandedly.
Then I recited the prayers
According to our laws and traditions
Which to me, are sacred."
Epictetus decided that
there is no pain
Only opinion
            with suicide as an option
In case you forget
 
occasionally they will take a
pot shot at an officer.
usually when soldiers rebel
it is not something they do outright.
half-crazed in the field
they will shoot anyone if permitted to
if they're not told not to.
enemy and civilian
look alike.
These fluctuations mean nothing.
For instance, last week the market
dropped thirty points.  My guess is that next
week we can expect it rise somewhat.
It is all emotional.
All in all very difficult
almost impossible to know
the subtle connections between
what actually happens in business
and uneven events on Wall Street.
They are, after all, very emotional
on Wall Street.
Meanwhile, we sit in the limousine
with this ass of a rabbi.
He would not let us see
the coffin lowered,
which we are told
is now done by machine.
Old women tend to make a scene
when they lower the coffin.
There is to be none of that
according to new policy.
"Shit!
Watch it!
You're going to knock over the fucking lamp."
"Will someone please restrain that
drunken idiot?"
Outside it's twelve below
Winter in Vermont with some friends
People start to dance
A little wine, a lot of beer
Bad music
I never dance
Still I begin to enjoy myself
in my corner drinking beer
wondering if I'll be trampled on
"It's noisy in here!"
Two people insist on running
out of the house in tee-shirts
A couple more follow them
No one stops them because
Pneumonia is, after all, curable
         You think you're smart
            hiring those nurses so I'll
               live longer
A girl (rather pretty) trips over the
coffee table and into my lap
I help her up (rather drunk)
she catches her breath a little
embarrassed -- not much
begins to dance again
"I like to use my body" she says
Someone whose name I don't remember
Hands me a glass of scotch with ice
From his own private stash
Some people return from outside
They look all right
Two girls dance
trying to out do each other
         We burn children there
         We bring them here
         Almost repair the skin
         Then send them there again
In the kitchen some people
are discussing Marx
What he couldn't comprehend
         I have found
            all the hostile faces
         that used to surround me
         were really my good friends
            learning to be witty
"I'll drink to that"
Cross country skiing tomorrow
A little Alka-Seltzer
Some lemon
(stolen from the tequila drinkers
in the other room)
And to bed
For a man with leukemia
a hole dug carelessly
meant a broken leg
where he tripped
with more violent swelling.
What is for us an annoyance
caused an infection, very dangerous for him
which they could just control.
Into this kind of rain
I came here
To avoid you
As lovers for the time
we would comfort each other
in ways that I don't understand
With a tension I yet feel
we drew near
animated beside her
with each moment closer
My best dreams were
for her
Her breasts are formed flesh
                   not whiteness
There is death in her sockets
Her dulled eyes
Like ice
   I remember those eyes
Half-crazed with an incomplete knowledge
There is perfection
Malignant, bitter
She said she remembers her father
That his kindness, that his failures
Are with her
      I loved her
      But I couldn't understand that
Certain important considerations
separated us
They were hers, she said
         typed into the brain
I would like to she said
      I loved her
I can't help it she said
The chemical factory is gorgeous
One smokestack in the fog, particularly,
With the mist that surrounds it
The rain falls in parallel lines
It's the middle of March and gusts
Hit the mountain
Brown and violet
A deeper brown with the influence of rain
There are evergreens also
And the chemical factory
Complex and innate
To the side of the highway
There was thunder
The rain became snow
The windshield iced up
Driving over the bridge
There is no control
We go into a skid
Our dance macabre
I scream
We will talk about it later
      "There is someone who designs guard rails
         for a living..."
The coming of twilight
We breathe
The decent of clear night
A soft rayed horizon stops me
A dark river spans over the region
Dried weeds that resemble wheat
There is a moon reflecting sun
We breathe
Sweet songs that begin at random
The sounds that will steadily cease
This woman
   though younger than myself
is no less knowledgeable
She knows my heart
But can't comprehend the extent of my love
This woman I need
is a woman I love
I think of you often
I need you
Yours are the breasts
Yours is the curve of your body
Our hearts are crude and tender
Together, we approach for the time
what is hidden
Peaceful again
The city reveals that aggravated light
The light that illuminates
The light that tortures
The usual light
The same measured streets
Brilliantly conceived
Through solid rock
Haphazardly built, destroyed, rebuilt
The working machine
The street light ricochets back
To the walls
To the river
An old dark cesspool, a mirror
Receives us
They tried chemistry
"Even a virus will burn itself out"
His temperature reached 105
When he recovered
Some of the doctors
Though afraid of brain damage
Thought he might live
They tried radiation
They brought in the oxygen tent
      he thanked them
When pneumonia set in
They left him
When she lay in her bed
   dying of her cancer
My mother said, "I miss them"
Her husband dead
         (be kind, he wrote in his journal)
8 years ago, leukemia
He left her four children
Her own father dead
            (once, when my younger brother entered
            the room, she thought it
            was her father
            so much did their walks resemble each others)
Her own father dead
He took my father's death hard
Suffered anyway from heart disease
   as far back as I remember
Found that he could not pay his income tax
They found him dead in his sleep
   sometime later

-1973-