Nebraska Center for Writers


spring 1963

Back home from three yearsí monastery life, working
in Europe, heís in love with these pacific Heights
and genteel streets named for fruit trees that could
never grow here, with Willow Street, especially,

the yellow house where he lives with Jack,
where each dawn they hear—amazing!— a cock crow
from some neighboring yard. Mornings he walks
the Esplanade above the docks and the traffic

seething below towards the city, the tall dazzle
of its skyline a jagged, brilliant rising from the East
River. He notes the flower man with his archaic
dull horse and cart, the young mothers pushing carriages,

their candy-bright hair teased high, and makes his way
to the end of the docks, where the neighborhood
shifts into abandoned warehouses and dim alleys,
where thereís a haunted hotel, a fabled ghost who passes

each morning by a fifth-floor window. Heís waiting,
unable to finish the book he knows will make him,
until the courts decide: will they swing or no?
They write him from their death row cells. He sends

them cigarettes and books—dictionaries for Perry,
porn for Dick. Swing or no? Once, Perry told him,
Dick ran down a dog on the highway, just for fun.
Thatís the kind of man he was. Not like him,

Perry said, he was never mean if he could help it,
made Mr. Clutter comfortable before he cut his throat.
The wind off the river smells of bait and coffee
from the trawlers, and the June mornings fairly

gleam. Far west, a Methodist crypt amidst the wheat
fields and prairie wildflowers, the sealed Clutter
house also waits—for the living to claim what
its dead no longer have a use for: pie tins stacked

and shining on a kitchen shelf, a girlís locked diary
buried among schoolbooks, her fatherís boots ready
by the mud scrape. Beside a narrow bed, left where
he can find them in the morning, a boyís thick glasses.

Reprinted with permission from
Hotel Amerika (Spring 2003.) Athens: Ohio University
Chinese-Western Poetry (Fall 2006). Macao.
Poetry Forest (Fall 2006). China. trs. into Mandarin by LuYe
Chance of a Ghost. Eds. Gloria Vando and Philip Miller. Helicon Nine Editions, October 2005


1. First Sign

Day after day, the fecund, mis-shaped cells
doubled and re-doubled inside her, infused
her bloodís unguarded channels and spawned their rank
tumors, unmaking each tissue-woven host —
her left lung first, then her brain, then her spine and bones,
brute Vandals at the marrow. For weeks, or months
(the doctors know so little), she felt nothing,
until that morning in August, a special class

for teachers, when her hand refused to move
or hold her pen, and curled limp against her paper,
a small, stunned thing. It seemed, she said, so strange,
and yet familiar, too, like that scene from a thousand
old westerns: the dozing scout startled to a fury
of dust, the first, faint sounds of horses approaching.

2. The Nonself: Some Things She Said To Me
In cancer, non-intelligent cells are multiplying
and you are being replaced by the non-you.
Immunologists class the bodyís cancer cells as Ďnonself.í
Susan Sontag, Illness As Metaphor
This is Hell, J. says from her hospital bed, and I
donít mean Hell, I mean Hell.
Like a comic
lush, she slurs her words, Atavan and morphine
swelling her tongue. Pupils shrunk to motes.

Bald now beneath her cotton turban, sparrow
thin, her bodyís soft tissues devoured by cancer,
she seems some third sex, the nonself the doctors
speak of. Outside, the leaves burn rust and gold,

brighten as they fall against an indifferent sky.
She crooks a finger I can almost see
through, hisses: She wants to kill me. Sheís crazy,
that nurse. You think Iím crazy, but sheís

the one. I want to go home. I want to walk
again. Why wonít you take me home? You donít know
what itís like. You donít know what this pain is like.
Youíre putting this in your next book, arenít you—

3. Meeting the Angel

Not as a bird with twelve black wings and an eye
and a tongue for each of us. (Someone dies
each time he blinks.) And not shrouded in celestial
light, a fair-haired castrato. Not as Samael,
angel of poison, his venomous sword quivering
above the parched, open mouths of the dying.
He did not come as Azrael, whom God helps,
bearing apples so sweet their fragrance kills
our fear of leaving this known world. What did we
know of death, of suffering? Each day for weeks
we drove the autumn highway to the clinic,
where the angelís rough map ablated J.ís skin
with the blue tattoos of radiology, black
dissolve of surgical stitches. And like, or unlike
God, he was always with us, among the lush,
ongoing trees, the small mercies of fresh
air and afternoon light leavening the cracked
glass, our heartsí stutter, as we reached the exit.

Reprinted with permission
from Muse
Copyright © 2002
by Susan Aizenberg
Crab Orchard Poetry Series, SIUP

The Rock

Nebraska Center for Writers