Already she has passed a boundary
We cannot guess or give shape;
Sees color we cannot name;
Hears music without our melody.
The mark of life’s slow leaving,
A deepening blush of sand,
The shade of decay, like water
Stains, like sediment after rain,
Putrefies behind her clouded eyes;
Obscures the struggling hunger still
Pounding through panicked veins,
Yellowing her like long lost parchment.
Her tired eyes, closing, wide, weary, wide
Search, never still, for something, some
Thing we can never know. We fear, we hope.
Please, let it be that she will finally find.
We gather. We sit beside her, clutching
Cooling flesh, follow each laborious breath
With our own, willing her recognition,
Reading response into her every tremor.
We watch with her, watching her,
Wanting to catch a glimpse of her
Vision, just a hint of her agony.
Let it be beautiful. Let it be paradise!
We tire. We succumb. We retreat to dinner
Or drink, dulled at last to her calling,
Victim of our need, unable to sustain
Our heart’s wish to stare, unblinking.
We return, one by one, in couples, in threes
To sit beside our leaving love again,
Crowding, listening for minute changes
In her moan, her breath, her unfocused gaze.
Perhaps it’s near now. Perhaps she’ll find rest
At long fucking last. Give up. Ghost.
We cringe, wishing death hurry here,
Wanting life back, wishing life away.
She’s not done. Finding another bourne
Another somewhere to linger, another
Alien geography of color and sound
To live in, briefly, floating amid new sanities.
We console her shaking head. Convincing
Ourselves, selfish to her end, that surely
She fights to stay for love of our loves.
Let go, we whisper, it’s time, it’s time.
Stop pushing me, her wrenching refusal
Seems to say. I’ll go when I’m good and ready.
Shamed, we watch, watch, watch, trying
With all our feeble might to make sense
Of the gibberish her failing body spouts,
Spurting from her drying tongue, like curses
Like pleas, like an infant’s caterwauling
For a teat, for warmth, for the noise to stop.
Her ticking eyes become a mirror, image
Our faith or fear or lack. God, surely
It is god she sees, speaking to the angels.
Lost loves, surely, she’s revisiting all of us.
Setting her house to rights, surely, combing
Through things done and not, stuff
Tucked firmly into her nether memory.
Speaking all the silences of a lifetime.
Failing proteins, surely, corrupt amino acids,
Starved firings of sluggish synapses.
We make of her dying confirmation,
Proof of our insubstantial selves.
It hurts. It hurts to watch. We feel foolish
Fixing a plate of macaroni and cheese,
Pouring yet another rum and coke,
Lighting up, still addicted to her killer.
But we cannot, will not, turn away.
We cannot blink this. It’s ours, must be,
Must be stared down. Must be the season
To this season’s meat, flavor to our brew.
Days pass. Days, that’s right, days.
And her shrinking language of guttural
Exhalations we learn to parse, hearing
Our names, phrases of hope, of love.
We speak in whispers. She’s fighting.
She’s strong. Stubborn as ever. Refusing
To voice the other option: Pain, reflex,
That she’s too weak even to die.
If only this were a movie. Where specialists
Cure such ills in the fifth reel. Where light
Twinkles the eyes once more. Where last
Words resound with wisdom and comfort.
She must be gone. No body could endure
What clearly she now suffers, shuffling
From side to side, reaching dull hands
To brush away dimly imagined flies.
It must be, please, that this soul’s flight
Has finished, and here we clutch only
Only husk, poor flesh, the animal remains,
Trembling chemical reaction. Please.
And then, at last, the rattle. We know
This sound we’ve never heard. It breaks
Upon us like a thunder, like a wave.
We hold our breath. Counting.
Let this be the last cresting, the final
Tumbling gasp. We count. Another.
How can we be disappointed? We are.
She’s drawn another brittle mouthful.
A tide rises, rising toward her lips
A deep crimson brown gathering
In her throat, blood and black humor,
Bursting forth, at long desired last,
Upon our sad ecstatic selves.
—Guy Gallo, screen and playwright, apprentice novelist, writes poetry when other words fail.