I feel the fragility of things in time. The way the bone I broke in my foot three years ago never quite healed right, the way it aches after I dance, and I put my foot in my husband’s lap and say…rub me I ache. He notices that since I broke my foot I hold on to railings when I go down stairs. I wept alone in the bathroom the night he told me this.
The image of my mother felled by macular degeneration, unable to sign her name on a check without the letters wobbling off the page.
My friends are dying. They email me and try to sound casual…hey, I’ve had a biopsy and the cancer has returned. Hey I tried to read the New York Times but the words scrambled and didn’t make sense. Hey the news is bad hey I have to go in for another test. Hey.
I don’t understand. Is this the end of what I knew as my life? What is this one way tunnel that I fall into every time I read one of these emails?
Wait. We were just young. Remember the summer we rented that huge house on the shore in Plymouth, 100 rickety wooden stairs down to the beach no fucking railing who needed a railing. Remember the endless hours swanning from one beach blanket to another, sharing joints and warm ice tea, diving into the Atlantic daring the waves to break us because nothing could break us, staying up until the rooster crowed, all of us, maybe twenty of us at any given time so in love with each other, the babies, the old people, so ecstatic to be in love with each other, we sang the morning into being, we tucked in the moon. There was no darkness that did not yield to our light and our joy.
And now we write. We say my husband had a stent put in. My daughter’s farm was devastated by flood and the fires nearly engulfed her. We say I don’t understand how we got so old so fast. We say my wife is dying we say my eyesight is dimming we say hey. Hey I still love you across the miles and when I go for my next MRI I’ll text you. Let’s not Skype I look like shit, and we remember going topless, boobs standing at attention, begging to be licked, sucked, begging to be admired because we were young and invincible and we knew it. We fucking knew it.
We say hey come talk at my funeral and we laugh. We say you’re still beautiful but we laugh again because of the chasm between being beautiful and being still beautiful.
We laugh and say you’re full of shit as always.
We say hey, if you get to the other side before me, be like Houdini. Send down a white feather, a pebble, a seashell, or better yet, a scrap of paper that simply says hey.
The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac
by Mary Oliver
Why should I have been surprised?
Hunters walk the forest
without a sound.
The hunter, strapped to his rifle,
the fox on his feet of silk,
the serpent on his empire of muscles—
all move in a stillness,
hungry, careful, intent.
Just as the cancer
entered the forest of my body,
without a sound.
The question is,
what will it be like
after the last day?
Will I float
into the sky
or will I fray
within the earth or a river—
How desperate I would be
if I couldn’t remember
the sun rising, if I couldn’t
remember trees, rivers; if I couldn’t
even remember, beloved,
your beloved name.
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.
Late yesterday afternoon, in the heat,
all the fragile blue flowers in bloom
in the shrubs in the yard next door had
tumbled from the shrubs and lay
wrinkled and fading in the grass. But
this morning the shrubs were full of
the blue flowers again. There wasn’t
a single one on the grass. How, I
wondered, did they roll back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of