Near the End
My world got reduced to a slight hairless
Woman in a pool of shit that stunk unbearably.
Sticky as tar and as black. Her knees were drawn up,
So to clean her I had to splay them gently like two
Halves of a bivalve shell. Her pubis was a white wedge,
Luminous, the size of a six-year old's. No labia left,
Just a sinking-in. With my right arm I lifted her,
Slid the pad out with my left and swapped.
Then the washcloth. All this nine times since
I filled the basin with new water each rinse.
Then oil, but I used my fingertips. Many sores
And bruises. Unsightly. I knew I had been tested.
The grotesque wanted me to do this and not flinch.
I flinched, but I finished. I turned out the light.
When I rolled my forehead against the glass
That looked out into the steamy Tampa night,
The voice began to wail, first in my chest, then
My throat, then my mouth. She wailed from outside
Of locality, like a banshee might. The night nurses
And orderlies couldn't stop her. No one can.
The Smallness of the Human Condition
From here she can see that bleak afternoon
Of shared sobbing—the two of them moving
To and from bed through veils of exhaustion;
Rain, December, all things withered, the light
A plateglass nickel that petrified their gestures.
They clung and wept, one body's shuddering
Shaking the breastbone of the other's until
A savage passion bloomed between them.
Later, alone, she wept in the pinewoods.
Dead ferns golden and matted, the hard red
Fruit of winterberry. Then darkness, and peace,
Soft as a newborn's cheek. What is softer than peace?
Her vulva? Her nipples' areolae? During the night,
A light gentle rain, fragrance of wet grass and old
Screens, the time after true anguish enters the soul.