In This Quest to Live Forever, There’s Occasional Operations Involved

What do I know of my last day on Earth?
I do remember the surgeon with the very large scalpel.
He stood over me, used that blade to reflect light and blind my eyes.
He was there to cut me open, but a doctor must be allowed to play.
I’m sure I have a lot of fun toys inside me.
I could feel my stomach tearing apart before he even touched me.
And there were nurses of course. Bandits in white.
They were there to steal all of the good years I’ve got coming.
Then the anesthetist jabbed a spear into my arm and,
for the next three hours or more, I dreamed nothing but coal mines.
When I awoke, I was like a beached dolphin, flapping and clueless.
A nurse confirmed the fact that yes, I was alive, the worst was over,
I could have fluids, would I like juice or tea etc etc.
What I really wanted was confirmation that I would never ever die.
I felt a pain in the region of my gut like my skin was being run through
my grandmother’s ancient sewing machine.
My fingers found the stitches. No way they’d last a thousand years.
I swallowed planet pain-killer, washed its oceans down with water.
The doctor’s smile came by, trailed by the man himself.
He was like an old west marshal, stethoscope in one hand, clipboard in the other.
“Success,” he said. “We were able to extract the entire tumor, debt, family issue,
car problem, girlfriend quagmire, housing shortage…”
What he meant was that the bad guy was now behind bars.
His voice died like the patient in the bed beside me.
The man had a bad heart. He changed colours overnight.
His last words were a diatribe against hospital food.
I’d prefer my epitaph to be pithy, profound and to rhyme.
But Marcus Welby left the room to go cheer up some other dead man.
Then I faced the terrors of people I know. They sat on the edge of the bed and gloated.
“We told you it was nothing.” The Red Sox score when someone from
the other team pitches a shutout is nothing. My insides are no playing field.
“You gotta read this,” said a friend, shoving a book into my weary mitt.
“It’s a thrill a minute.” No, it wasn’t about some guy who opens up his friend’s stomach
and goes looking for a malignant growth. There was a time-bomb involved.
That was such a relief to me. A man can never hear enough ticking.

Marie from Kinshasa

Her father bartered, she says,
fording the brown river in a pirogue,
a hollowed-out tree trunk.
I’m willing to believe
her journey to this place
began in such a fragile vessel.
She rocks in it even now
as harsh November wind
invades the window cracks,
pricks the skin
like typhoid needles.
And her fingers, tying up to mine,
trade her stories
for my reassurance.
She tells of what happened
when the Belgians left,
the army mutinied,
violence, poverty…
the country virtually ceased.
She explains it as
the occasional gunshots
in these streets
magnified 10,000 times,
the food on her table,
in her cabinets,
divided by 100.
She admits to being unskilled
in everything
from language
to the grubby intricacies
of her costume jewellery factory job.
In survival though,
she’s expert.
How she got where she is today
is like a lesson she teaches.
She says, “Every day you arrive someplace.
Consider the luck involved.”

A Good Time Is Had by All

Despite it being winter solstice,
darkest of days,
longest of nights,
I don’t feel like death
or even sorrow.

The time of year
doesn’t take where I am in life
and move it that much closer
to its inevitable end.
It doesn’t demand dirges
on the stereo
or lashings of Dylan Thomas.

Nor do the drifts
that deepen by the moment
shackle me to the indoors
or does the cold
have me thinking hibernation
or even cryogenics.

The fireplace is lit.
Friends drop by.
Rooms hum with wine and conversation.
The pizza delivery guy is at the door.
A crowd gathers at the piano
for the inevitable sing-song.
Home or self—
life takes its cue from interiors.

The outside,
virulent as it may be,
is mere coincidence.

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image: Michal Bielecki

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