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A weekly poem, read by the author.
Nov. 8 2000 3:00 AM


I wanted to watch the game.
The small room strewn


with magazines was too dark
to read in, lightless

but for the frenzied pulsing
of the muted screen

above the door, and for the
door which a nurse would open

now and again onto
a blazing corridor


that this one's wife or that
one's son, when called, would leave for,

or drift back from, dazed
either way, coming

or going, by the light
first, then the dark.

I wanted to watch the game,
I could tell that time


was running out by how
the white team, spreading

the court, touch-passed
the ball from corner to key

to corner so quickly that
the yellow team couldn't

get close enough to foul,
the ball sailing just


beyond their reach as they lunged
for it, scrambled and dove,

frenetic, hopeless, in a
dumb-show of defeat.

I wanted to watch it, but
the lady next to me,

soon as my brother's name
was called, was telling me


"the story,": what we all share,
our bond, our lingua franca.

the before, the after, the signs
now unmistakable

but at the time ignored
until the stroke or seizure.

I wanted to watch the game.
I wanted to tell the lady,

Lady, I don't know how long
my brother has to live,

my sister's dead, my parents
are dying, can't you just let

me watch the game in peace?
But the automatic iron

gears of courtesy
engaged, and I was just

so many different engines
of attention: a nameless friend,

a confessor, an innocent
who can't have any idea

of what it's like to live
with someone you've spent your life with

and see him this way, unable
to feel emotion, like a

well-trained zombie,
because that's what the tumor

damaged, where the feelings
come from in the brain.

My goodness, you must think
it's so selfish of me

to complain like this. I should
feel grateful, shouldn't I?

I mean, I know he has
no sense of what we're all

going through for him,
and so he can't really

love us now, not me, not
even the children. But at least

he isn't scared of dying
since he can't feel fear—

It's a blessing really …
She looked away and

smiled, apologizing
for going on like that,

the way my sister did
in her last days each time

the nurse would decompact
her bowels by hand—I'm

sorry, she'd mumble, barely
conscious, sorry, sorry,

till the nurse was through,
her relief, then, less relief

from pain than from the need
even then, to think of

others (didn't we all say
it was so like Beth to do that?).

She could just sleep and
no longer fuel the still

inexorable autonomous
machinery of obligations

that displace us even as
they make us who we are.

Now he was back, her husband,
he smiled when she introduced me,

and before they left for the next
test, next waiting room,

he placed his hand on my shoulder
and said, good luck, god speed,

said it as if he meant it,
as if he could feel it, the gesture

performing itself without him,
like a blinking eyelid

with no eye behind it.
Up on the screen, the crowd

stormed the court in silence
as time expired. My brother

was probably by then
inside a long white

tube where he'd doze while
pictures were being taken

of all the hidden places
in his brain. He was sealed off

and all open, he was free
and confined, and I wanted

him to stay there where
he didn't have to apologize

to anyone for the delay,
the inconvenience, as

he would to me, as always,
when he returned. I wanted

to sit here and keep watching
the nodding, radiantly

bald head of the color
man as he smiled a stiff

smile as he held the mike
up high toward the mouth

of the stooping six-ten player
of the game who (I could tell)

was thanking the good lord
for his god-given this or that.