As my fingertips explore your body
they encounter the long white remnants
of the surgeon’s knife. One extending
from neck to navel has almost faded away.
(I didn’t know that scars could disappear.)
The round one that held the failed feeding
tube is still there. The gash that stretches
from shoulder blade to ribs looks
like a brush with the Mafia.
Sometimes I wake and listen
for your regular breathing after dreaming
of darkness and death. Ten years
from diagnosis, seven from the last chemo.
The doctors thought you would surely die
within nine months. Midnight trips
to the hospital through record snowfalls
that January. Our marriage also had cancer,
but it took the embodiment
to make us understand.
People often ask what worked.
Was it the German doctor’s concoctions,
the laying on of hands, our therapist’s guidance,
spiritual awakening? Or perhaps your own solid
determination to reach that vast reservoir
of healing. We had to excise the defenses,
cut down the pride, stem the addictions,
uncover and own the looking away,
everything that masked the heart.
Sleeping lightly, you are soft, smooth
and muscular, more like a teenager
than a man in his seventh decade,
dreaming of saws and chisels
and long straight pieces of cherry
rough places plane,
the woodworker’s dream.
— Alice Hardesty
Earlier versions of this poem were published in The West Wind Review (1998) and in the online newsletter of Healing Journeys.
“Tule Fog” painting by Leach~Werner Studio