in Real Audio
“And now we must go, you to live and I to die. But which of
us goes to the better part, no one knows but God.” — Socrates
I came from the south side, an hour by train,
To see him at the parish house. The door
Unlocked, the kitchen empty, I slipped in
And called. A voice I hadn’t heard before,
Muffled from somewhere down the hall, said, “Wait.”
I dropped my backpack on the table, found
My paradigms of verbs to conjugate,
And whispered recitations until a sound
“Who are you?”
help Father Bill.”
A man in an orderly’s white cotton
Asked who I was. He approved, said to call
Him Dick (it wasn’t his name) and let me in.
I hadn’t seen him since this final cut,
the last operation. Propped up in bed,
he listed leftward, functioning or not
in halves. Avoiding my eyes, he said,
“Blepo was my favorite verb.”
One hand remained to trace the lines that implied
The other’s invisible counterpoint.
What your class is reading...”
Or real, just Dick and Jane Greek.”
In seminary: Plato, Homer, Paul —
They give you a bed pan, they go, they come back,
Again and again. ‘You finished? That's all?’
I said, ‘Is peeing a test you pass or fail?
Read Paul. It's not about works. It's grace.’
‘The tumor,’ they whispered; ‘You rest, you're pale.’
Don't speak the tongue of angels in that place.
Delirious, I overheard.”
the finger of the one good hand, circled near
his head, above the scar the surgeons carved
to dig out damage they could not repair.
Another month, and he had changed his mind.
“It’s blaptomai. I liked that too.”
“It hurts a child to bite into something too cold
too fast, like popsicles or ice cream treats.
Know what I mean?”
one does now.
Dick tells me not to say these things about —
So I call him Hitler, Tito, Chairman Mao.
He doesn’t know what I’m talking about.”
First hint of dark and cold in August. Page
In hand, I paced and conjugated the hours
Until he woke. Even in its age,
It was archaic: deiknumi, in ours,
thinks he’s home,” the aide
Interrupted, “wants his pictures, makes me look
For his hat. I tell him, Not home! He gets mad.
You tell,” ordered Hitler Tito Mao Dick.
I didn’t tell him. It didn’t matter where
We were as long as we could find the place
In this conversation that’s gone on for years,
And will go on, by half, in me.
Look for my hat. I don’t know where it is,
On the coat rack, the shelf, and check the stair
I searched, hoping the hat
The he knew.
can’t find what isn’t there.”
I always forget what deiknumi means.
I have to look it up, but find instead
myself back there, reciting the perfect tense
like rosary beads, by a hospital bed.
I promised to come back another verb,
another day. There was no other. Then
and still, I want to find the hat, the word,
or what it meant to him. I have made known.