“No one ever asks if you had a good winter.” ~ Douglas Haynes, from “Corn Moon”

Fairfield Porter Late Afternoon Snow 1972

“Late Afternoon Snow” (1972, oil on paper on panel)
by Fairfield Porter

                   

Two for Tuesday: Douglas Haynes

When I chose these poems about the poet’s mother, my mom wasn’t in the hospital. Weird coincidence? Twisted turn of fate?

Tom Thomson In Algonquin Park 1914 oil on canvas

“In Algonquin Park” (1914, oil on canvas)
by Tom Thomson

Last Word

She ate a piece of tuna and a piece of salmon, raw on my fingers
passing her blue, faintly-upturned lips. The chef spent half an hour
of her final day arraying the fish in tiny bites and festooning them
with saw-toothed plastic. I ate what she couldn’t the day after she died,

when her last everythings became decoration: the book Swimming to Antarctica
she always wanted on her bed but never finished; her smile in the picture
donning her pink wig; the bendable, red straw she sipped coffee through
before slipping unconscious. When the rasp and moan of her death rattle

hushed, I was reading about ceviche in a magazine I’d bought too late
for her to read. I reached her bed just in time to see her eyes roll
and fix a dilated void, to hear her shallow, penultimate breaths
more like preparation for stillness than actual gasps of air.

The wood frog chorus went on outside for no other reason than to persist.
If someone you love is dying, decide whether you believe in ghosts.
Without the map of belief, train whistles in the night that I used to hear
beside her became bearers of someone I couldn’t touch.  Wind rushing

through a window screen sounded like a whisper. Do you say hello
to the dead? Or just start with what you wish you had said, since
the liminal space between words and a world without them
won’t survive your sleepless night in the room beside her body?

The next morning arrived like houselights after a tragedy’s curtain falls,
like the crowd’s transformation that isn’t fulfillment in the face
of someone else’s misfortune, but gratitude that the heroine believed
stubbornly in redemption. Her last word was water.

                   

Walter Elmer Schofield Winter Stream c1925 oil on canvas

“Winter Stream” (c1925, oil on canvas)
by Walter Elmer Schofield

Natural Medicine

The doctor tells her to lift her johnny way up over her head,
puts a cold stethoscope on her back, and says Breathe deeply. Again.

I stop breathing. I imagine her lungs burbling like a pot of boiling water.
The doctor says Let’s take a look. She and I don’t look.

Looks good he says, which means that though one breast is a rift
of scars, the other seems fine. But you’re not out of the woods yet,

which means death lurks like a toothy beast behind every tree
but the forest ends just beyond the horizon, means that the doctor

doesn’t want to say that no medicine from a rainforest fern
or social-climbing bacterium can rubber-stamp her saved.

He says Here’s what we’ll do because he gets paid to do something
despite knowing the body’s mysteries haven’t faded as fast

as the family farm, as the rainforest, as the path outward closing
behind her with no moon or stars lighting the way and where—

if she lies down to sleep—nature won’t wake her in the morning.

                   

Music by The Cure, “To Wish Impossible Things”

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