"Last Days"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
May 19 2009 7:02 AM

"Last Days"

in memory of Gabriele Helms, 1967-2004

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Elise Partridge read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes..

My friend, you wouldn't lie down.
Your wandering IV pole
glided with you, loyal,
rattling on frantic circuits;
crisp pillows didn't tempt;
round, around, around,

guppies cruised the lobby tank,
flickering sunrise-slivers
all guts, mouths urging, urging;
tube-lights buzzed like bees
over your pale shoulders;
you wadded your mauve gown,

yanked on flame-red sweats
matching the bulbs you glimpsed
blazing that Christmas week
through nearby squares downtown;
all through the bluish hours
the night janitor's mop

swung drowsily over the lino,
the nurse tucked one leg up,
barely a monitor blinked—
scout in a cornered valley,
you looped your length of ground
as cancer hurtled to break

the bones that kept you pacing,
carrying your handsbreadth girl
(five-month spindle Buddha,
her brain's coral byways
traveled by your voice);
round, around, around,

you dueled to stay alive
until she could be born.
The doctors that last Tuesday
said it had to be now
and wheeled you off, upright.
Her shivering two red pounds—

you never got to cup them.
Did you even hear her cry?
Only two days later,
your gray eyes glazed, stuck,
a cod's on melting ice.
What could wrench you down?

Your daughter's walking now;
we dash chasing after.
Round, around, around,
tentative, urgent stumbles …
Someday we will tell her
how you refused to lie down.

.

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