THE NIGHT BEFORE
The ex-husbands were the worst; not one showed up
to discuss whether a wife’s head should be shaved
the night before or asleep on the table.
Ex-girlfriends and wives were better, always there
to stake out their territory and proclaim undying devotion.
A patient’s room the night before was like a temple
a moment before the service starts, everyone chatting
and catching up, the pews in front of the Ark
filled with noise, the children of blended families
forced to attend, in loud debate
about what should be done. Each of them had their reasons:
father was much too young or old to get the new drug,
he was otherwise healthy, his heart was strong,
if he knew he would fight to the end or
he wouldn’t want to live as less than a man.
Like this they broke into camps, some still wishing
to keep up the fight by another attack on the tumor,
others in favor of (usually unsaid) adjusting the respirator
and pulling the plug. Unless the man in the bed was deep in coma
or paralyzed by drugs, we took it outside to the hall
and made our decision in that outer courtyard of the temple
where nurses walk their silent carts
and monitors wink like distant stars.
I stepped just far enough away he wouldn’t hear them trembling
to know what I would do in the morning.
Even if he never spoke, I always assumed he listened.
—from Rattle #31, Summer 2009