To the Loved Ones of Patients in Surgery
This is not about them. It’s about us—
though they’re cut open, we are too, sorta.
Right now, you and I drift in a boat of grief.
Let’s each take an oar. Let’s tell our stories.
I’m sitting here eating BBQ chips
and peach shortbread cookies. First I jogged
in place to bounce away fear. I am not
a jogger, but COVID means no visitors
so wait wait wait at home. What do you do?
I put away my husband’s coffee mug,
kissing it first. It’s okay. You have done
something squishingly sentimental, right?
Like crying when slicing a pear because
they know just how to choose the ripe ones.
This isn’t cheering you up, is it?
Sometimes we don’t need cheer. We need to be
piglets or great hogs wallowing in self-pity.
Muddy, messy, barbeque-fingery,
selfish. Yes, they could be dying, but if
so, they will gambol with angels while we’re
useless down here in a wasteland watching
comedies that don’t seem funny by ourselves.
Surgery should well be over, yet no
phone call. No phone call means something is wrong,
something went wrong. Oh that cringe-memory
of something indeed terrifically wrong
for my last love, dead on our kitchen floor.
What a great gut-punch now, even though
my husband has the “best” kind of cancer,
and his surgeon is the Roger Federer
of this procedure—grand-slamming cure rates,
5-year survivals, chances of…
The morning after his diagnosis,
I felt that old ache of the vacant space
in our bed, though he had only risen
to make coffee and sat very alive
in front of the fireplace contented
as if his long-lost cat were on his lap.
A crater had crashed clear through the mattress,
through the floor, to the garage below.
As Paul Simon sings, grief blows you open
so everyone can see right into you.
Like our fourth-grade trip to a vet college.
Live cows had plastic windows in their sides
so students could observe the four stomachs.
Great loss has laid me bare twice before.
So now the ache, which I thought had left me—
or at least had been tightly tucked away—
too easily pops up like a rusting
Jack-in-the-Box clown. Oh that wicked smile!
When positive thinking fails you, do you fret
that some magical power has been lost?
Let’s try the Buddhist practice of tonglen,
embracing all suffering as the same:
Feel your own pain, know others have pain too.
Breathe it all in, vacuum it from the world.
Then breathe it all out—everyone’s and yours.
I’m inhaling my black storm and yours too.
I’m exhaling a cloud—white, of course,
downy in a blue sky. Or clouds tinged pink
by the dropping sun. They carry sorrows
into the topsy-turvy magnetic fields
of the Devil’s Triangle to vanish.
Finally, the surgeon calls to tell me
he made it. He made it through perfectly.
All that worrying for nothing, except
more useless worry about the healing,
the waiting in lymph-biopsy Limbo.
But now it feels important to tell you
about our honeymoon six months ago—
wild horses eating sea oats on beaches,
Spanish moss draped like lace, resurrection
ferns softening the branches of live oaks.
The ferns become sad, gray ghosts of themselves
in dry spells. Fronds curl like dead spider legs.
But you can trust these marvels to revive:
With rain, they’ll turn vivacious-green again.