So what did he think up there in all that
pain? What was he seeing through
glazed eyes? Did he think, Surely
this isn’t going to end here. Surely,
I’m not going to die like this.
Looking out over the small crowd of hysterical
women and indifferent soldiers, did he wonder,
Does anybody here get this? Do you see now
what I’ve been saying
Or did he just hang there bleeding, torn up, a failure
in his own mind? And, most painful of all, did he think,
“I screwed up.
I’ll have to do this all over again.”
Valiant casualties of the plague know
what it is like to face the truth
at the bitter end. There are those of us
who have taken Death’s hand and said, “Sit here. Talk
to me. Tell me everything.”
And Death says everything we don’t want to hear:
“Love this thing,” she tells us. “It is only the dark side of the moon,
God’s other face. This is the end
that was always meant for you. Like a letter gone astray,
now finally delivered to the correct address by a helpful
stranger from down the street. Once opened, once read,
there is no escaping the knowledge contained inside.
How you handle it is all up to you now.”
I listen to Death’s words as I hang
on this cross of consciousness, spread out
on a tree of nails, trying to hold all my thoughts,
trying to hold no thought at all.
So this is what
I’m told here, now, at the bloody end?
This is meant to comfort me, to enlighten?
[But, oddly, it does.] This was my letter
gone astray, brought by a friendly stranger –
the beautiful lover I, like Eve, could not
resist. I read it over and over. It’s very personal.
And now everything
is up to me.
I hang on the cross of compassion, pulled tight
by the awareness that all those gathered
around – good mother, harlot, lover, a field
of men who hate or love me – are waiting for something.
Even here, even now, I’m expected to comfort them.
I want to speak. I want to tell them
what they long to know. I want to say what will soothe
them most. But I cannot.
I can only tell them what they do not want to know.
I can say only the words that come to me,
hanging here, like him, at the place where all paths
converge. I can only tell them:
Love this thing. It is your last chance.