Richard Greene, Crossing the Straits (Toronto: St. Thomas Poetry Series, 2004): 27-30.
1The journey goes past healing to places
3separate the last of our consciousness
4from a body shrinking away to pain.
5I nod to the man who sits on his bed
6inhaling oxygen from the thin tube
7under his nose, as if it were some vice;
8he seems a corner-boy with cigarette,
9spitting because it’s manly not because
10he must. I know his brother, the tenor
11at the Basilica; when he visits,
12I wonder how health and sickness can make
13two versions of a single Irish face.
14Further down, I discover Jim Wade,
15a parcel of bones; I had supposed
16despite the ship-wreck of his tumoured lungs
17that he was well enough to live a year;
18here among some books and canvases,
19he shows me a paragraph of his on night
21in a strange and loving calligraphy.
22By the weekend, he is in his coffin.
23At the door of her bedroom, I see her
24as she was in my childhood, on the arm
25of a last boyfriend before she lost all
26hope of marriage, or as in photographs
27from the 40s when there were always Yanks
28to dance with at the Base, but never one
29to set against a mother’s will that she
30should stay at home and give up on men.
31Ninety pounds of her barely dent the bed,
32as she stirs from palliative twilight
33to greet me with a mumbled affection.
34My father’s choice was not to tell her,
35but I’m sure she knows by now that something
36as bad as cancer is killing her.
37The nurses are professionally kind;
38I could not do the things they make routine,
39the labours that accomplish less and less,
40washing limbs and folding them when it’s time.
41They adjust the drip beside her bed,
42and record the increments of morphine
43on a chart, as well as tranquillizers –
44‘It’s for the anxiety.’ But she rarely
45wakes, and so they are medicating dreams,
46one pill to take away the fear of death.
47When she does wake and words come back to her,
48she asks about the little dog she made obese
49with chocolate treats, mentions the mother
50who became her only spouse and widowed her
51three years before, or she asks for ‘Richard,’
52meaning my father, who gives her answers,
53understands things better than anyone.
54But tonight she startles me by asking,
55‘Rick, what is going to happen to me?’
56I cannot face her pain and tell a truth
57or play the counsellor and make her say
58of what she is afraid, and so I lie,
59‘You will be okay, you will be okay.’
60Soon she does not wake, though perhaps she hears
61the priest’s ritual, and knows in her drowned
62consciousness that breath is nothing now,
63takes the last little swallows of air, and goes.
RPO poem Editors
Ian Lancashire / Sharine Leung
Copyright © Richard Greene and used by permission of the poet.
Authorization to republish this poem must be obtained from him in writing.