Her Body Like a Lantern Next to Me

John Rybicki

            There's this movie I am watching:
my love's belly almost five months
            pregnant with cancer,
            more like a little rock wall
piled and fitted inside her
            than some prenatal rounding.
            Over there's her face
near the frying pan she's bent over,
            but there's no water in the pan,
            and so, no reflection.  No pool
where I might gather such a thing as a face,
            or sew it there on a tablet made of water.  
            To have and to haul it away,
sometimes dipping into her
            in the next room that waits for me.
            I am old at this.  I am stretching
the wick again into my throat
            when the flame burns down.
            She's splashing in the tub
and singing, I love him very much,
            though I'm old and tired
            and cancerous.  It's spring
and now she's stopping traffic,
            lifting one of her painted turtles
            across the road.  Someone's honking,
pumping one arm out the window,
            cheering her on.
            She falls then like there's a house
on her back, hides her head in the bank grass
            and vomits into the ditch.
            She keeps her radioactive linen,
Bowl, and spoon separate. For seven days
            we sleep in different rooms.
            Over there's the toilet she's been
heaving her roots into. One time I heard her
            through the door make a toast to it,
            Here's to you, toilet bowl.  
There's nothing poetic about this.
            I have one oar that hangs
            from our bedroom window,
and I am rowing our hut
            in the same desperate circle.  
            I warm her tea then spread
cream cheese over her bagel,
            and we lie together like two guitars,
            A rose like a screw
in each of our mouths.  
            There's that liquid river of story
            that sometimes sweeps us away
from all this, into the ha ha
            and the tender. At night the streetlights
            buzz on again with the stars,
and the horses in the field  swat their tails
            like we will go on forever.
            I'm at my desk herding some
lost language when I notice how quiet
            she has been. Twice I call her name  
            and wait after my voice has lost its legs
and she does not ring back.  
            Dude, I'm still here, she says at last
            then the sound of her
stretching her branches, and from them
            the rain falling thick through our house.  
            I'm racing to place pots and pans
everywhere.  Bottle her in super canning jars.  
            For seventeen years, I've lined  
            the shelves of our root cellar with them.  
One drop for each jar.  
            I'll need them for later.
From We Bed Down Into Water by John Rybicki. Copyright © 2008 by John Rybicki. Used by permission of Northwestern University Press. All rights reserved.

Further Reading

Poems About Illness
Kaddish, Part I
by Allen Ginsberg
A Litany in Time of Plague
by Thomas Nashe
Afternoon at MacDowell
by Jane Kenyon
Against Elegies
by Marilyn Hacker
by Donna Masini
Auld Lang Syne
by Jennifer L. Knox
by Carmen Giménez Smith
by William Olsen
by Josephine Dickinson
Christmas Away from Home
by Jane Kenyon
Cognitive Deficit Market
by Joshua Corey
by Gail Mazur
Everyone Gasps with Anxiety
by Jeni Olin
Having it Out with Melancholy
by Jane Kenyon
Hospital Writing Workshop
by Rafael Campo
In Memory of W. B. Yeats
by W. H. Auden
Losing It
by Margaret Gibson
by Wanda Coleman
by Michael Redhill
Prayer for Sleep
by Cheryl Dumesnil
R.I.P., My Love
by Tory Dent
by Shel Silverstein
The Embrace
by Mark Doty
The Land of Counterpane
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Nurse
by Michael Blumenthal
The Sick Child
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Sick Rose
by William Blake
The Subalterns
by Thomas Hardy
The Transparent Man
by Anthony Hecht
The Visit
by Jason Shinder
To Amy Lowell
by Eunice Tietjens
by Donald Hall
by Albert Goldbarth
Visits to St. Elizabeths
by Elizabeth Bishop
Waking in the Blue
by Robert Lowell
When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
by John Milton