In the Dark Days of Wasting

In the Dark Days of Wasting


The following is the 41st poem in Valley of Blue Hope: Poems Before and After Diagnosis of Cancer.


I wake in the middle of night and try to get out of bed. There’s been a vigil in my hospital room: my wife Joan and my daughter Beth and her husband Frank have taken turns watching over me. I hear a voice: “No, don’t do that.” It’s my youngest son, Take, who has been sleeping beside me on a cot. He says the doctor wants me to stay put, and if I want to get up I need to call the nurse. She’s the one who cleaned me up and catheterized me. I am way beyond modesty and shame when the tube enters my penis and the urine bag hangs beside my bed. Later, I’m told that they almost lost me. But I had no awareness that I was dying, and I wonder if you die when you are completely out of it, completely unaware of what is happening, are you really dead. Does one really experience death, the closing of the door, the fading of the light? Or, is it as some say, you enter a tunnel at the end of which there is a fantastic light, even the presence of God?


In the dark days of wasting, all is not dark. There are also moments of joy, as when my son-in-law Roger and the young floor nurse washed my hair and gave me a sponge bath. I was a baby in their arms. Roger was so meticulous in his scrubbing and drying and he and the nurse made the common task of washing a wasting body a party for three. I’ve never had a bath like that before, except when I was an infant in my mother’s arms. When I asked the nurse what she enjoyed or looked forward to in nursing, she said, “Moments like this. Every once in a while, they happen.”


In the Dark Days of Wasting


Hard to believe two years ago, even six months ago

I was building decks, hauling rock for landscaping,

and planting buffalo juniper and lilac bushes

for the years to come. Now like a baby I stand

in the puddle, thinking “Oh damn,” after messing my pants.

I’m a prisoner of my own body, asking: “Will I ever

drive a car again? Eat a steak? Will I write a poem again,

or will this sickness leave me so changed I won’t recognize

myself? Will my deep beliefs hold, like “We are here to

give it all away, our best ideas and our selves.” Will I

continue to do this, give myself away, as I believe

I’ve done? Will I love my life, and find God

in my memories? I cinch my trousers like an old man.

My skin too baggy for my bones.


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