More of a Hum, Less of a Scream

HABLANDO SOLA

I’ve been thinking about something. I’ve been thinking about it while I surf, while I ride my bike, in the early mornings when I’m neither awake nor asleep.


JUNE

It’s June. I don’t know what that means to you, but it for me it dislodges something that lives deep in my bone marrow. It brings me flashes of unthinkable doctor visits, sudden plane tickets, a long morning run when I understood exactly what was happening even though I didn’t dare to say it, and the surreal sensation of packing suitcases for a trip that wasn’t a vacation.  A lot of those days turned into poems.

Probably, eventually, if I live long enough, June will just be June.  It will be different. Everything is always different, eventually. You can quote me on that if you want to. You can bet your life savings on it.

After June comes July. July reminds me of long walks, fruit and vegetable markets, chemotherapy appointments, and the ER. August follows, with more of the same. September is a hard month that takes me on a trip through the process of dying. Getting out of your body is as messy as getting into it.  And then there’s October with its interminable silence. Clocks tick 24 hours a day. The sunlight is sharp and cold.


THAT WAS 3 YEARS AGO

You wonder how many more times I’m going to tell you this story? I don’t know. Imagine how many times it tells itself to me. 

It’s a good story.  If today was the end of it, you could say it has a happy ending.  How’s that for optimism?


CELLS

I read once that every 7 years every cell in the human body is replaced by a new cell. Have I written about this before? I might have. I think it’s important.

I’m writing about it now, because I’ve been thinking about my body. Almost half of my body wasn’t even there, three years ago, when Pio and I took off for Milan. These hands are only sort of the hands that packed the suitcases. The feet that walked through pairs of shoes on the streets of Milan trying to make space for all this—those feet are only sort of my actual feet, today. Half the cells in my body—from my ankle bones to the synapses in my brain—never even knew Pio. Half of these eyes never saw him. Isn’t that crazy?

And this: half the cells that make up my brain where the stories are held aren’t even the original ones who recorded the stories. They do the job of remembering the stories they’re told, I guess, but they weren’t even there in my head on the airplane, or at the market trying to remember how to say “cauliflower” in Italian, or in front of the TV together splitting a beer and potato chips (because at that point, why not?), or in the hospital room holding hands when that was all that was left. Imagine. A few years more and not even one cell in my body will have been there.

We remember things experienced in other bodies.


HARD POETRY

I think that explains everything. It explains how we can go on living. Because with every hour and every day, our bodies turn into other bodies that haven’t even experienced our own stories. Our brain cells that remember them were told the stories by previous generations of brain cells. It’s more hard poetry than hard science, but what a perfect place for them to meet. The stories remain, but something about the sound they make is different. Something about the tone. The sound coming from my bones is there, but it’s more of a hum, less of a scream.

You can’t stop it. You can’t make it hurry up. If you just keep eating some food, drinking some water, sleeping at night, and staying out of the jaws of crocodiles, it happens on its own. It’s beautiful. It’s brutal. It doesn’t really matter what you call it.

 

EVENTUALLY

Do I sit around ruminating on this all the time?  I do not.  But it’s June.  Part of me commences a 4-month walk through The Valley of The Shadow of Death.

It’s alright. I fear no evil. 

Everything, eventually, is different.

You Can Always Come for the Cookies / Videos from a Poetry Reading

On Saturday, November 9 at Tamarindo’s one and only bookstore, I held a small launch party for and reading of my new poetry collection, CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON. I think I had realistic expectations regarding how much of a crowd a poetry book about death might draw, so I was pleasantly surprised by how many people showed up. Thirty is the number I heard: old friends, new friends, strangers, other widows.  I sold all the books I have.

I made a lot of cookies and bought some wine for the occasion. Even if you don’t love poetry (not the biggest draw in a surf town), you can always come for the cookies. I’m good with that.

A dear friend of mine videoed my presentation in short segments, which, today I am sharing with you. Following, is the introduction to CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON, and each of the 5 poems in English.

A neighbor who is also a poet made this comment to me after reading CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON:

“You say it’s a book about death, but it isn’t. It’s a book about life. You use shades of black to show us all the other colors.”

 

INTRO 1: HOW THE BOOK CAME TO BE, AND HOW IT CAME TO BE IN TWO LANGUAGES

INTRO 2:  WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK?

POEM 1 OF 5: A poem that paints a picture of “before” and ends with a warning

POEM 2 OF 5: About discovering sickness

POEM 3 OF 5: A poem about death and the first (of an infinate number) moment of silence

POEM 4 OF 5: On what you must do after you’ve done everything

POEM 5 OF 5: Later, contemplating ashes, the ocean, the idea of going home

Namaste

CERTAIN AS AFTERNOONCERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO

A Poem to Name a Book After

That’s what I think of the poem “Certain as Afternoon,” the title poem of my new book.

The poem is about the beginning of the end–about death, but not about the moment of dying. The poem is about the moment death is born and no one knows it. Like quiet rain in the night, and you wake up and look out the window and say, “Hey look! It rained in the night. I wonder when? I didn’t hear anything.”

In the poem, there is a “we.” The “we” is me and Pio, of coruse, but it is also any other “we” in the world. In the night while we are sleeping in our room, something else enters the room quietly like rain in the night. No one knows the moment it comes. But when we awaken in the morning it is there in the room with us, certain as afternoon.

Because the one thing you can be sure of in the morning, on any morning, is that the next thing to arrive is afternoon.  And when the end has begun, it’s arrival follows as naturally as afternoon follows morning.

 

Certain as Afternoon

death came quietly
like rain in the night
no one knew the
moment it began

there was no thunder
no lightening
when the sick cells
began to divide then
send out seeds

when we woke in the
morning
it stood in the
room with us
certain as afternoon

 

Certa Come il Pomeriggio 

la morte cominciò a formarsi
silenziosamente
come pioggia nella notte
nessuno sapeva il momento
del suo inizio

non c‘erano tuoni
nè lampi
quando le cellule malate
cominciarono a separarsi
ed a disseminarsi 

quando ci siamo svegliati
al mattino
era lì in piedi
nella stanza con noi
certa come il pomeriggio

Available Now: CERTAIN AS AFTERNOON / CERTA COME IL POMERIGGIO

My new poetry collection, Certain as Afternoon, is now availble on Amazon.com, Amazon.it, Amazon.es, Amazon.whatever.

Mia nuova raccolta di poesie, Certa Come il Pomeriggio. è ora disponibile per ordinare su Amazon.com, Amazon.it, Amazon.es, Amazon.tutto.

I love this book. I love the terrible story it tells because it’s my story, our story. When stories are all you have, you’d be amazed how much you can love them. A lot. They don’t have to be pretty. Certain as Afternoon covers about a year and a half, calendar time. Which equal about 7 eternities in real life. I didn’t write the poems as the things happened; I wrote them later. A thing has to get done happening before you know what it was. All you can do while it’s happening is hold on for the ride.

Adoro questo libro. Adoro la storia terribile che racconta perché è la mia storia, la nostra storia. Quando le storie sono tutto ciò che hai, è incredibile quanto puoi amarle. Tantissimo. Non importa che non siano belli. Certa Come il Pomeriggio racconta la storia di circa un anno e mezzo, tempo di calendario. Equivalente a 7 eternità nella vita reale. Le poesie non le ho scritte quando accadevono le cose; le ho scritte più tardi. Una cosa deve finire di succedere prima che tu sappia cosa fosse. Tutto quello che puoi fare mentre sta succedendo è rimanere aggrappata.

If you helped me translate this book, please don’t order it—I will get one to you.

Se tu mi hai aiutato a tradurrre questo libro, per favore non ordinarlo—ti lo regalerò io. Se tu sei nella famiglia di Pio, non comprarlo. Ti lo vorrei regalare.

This is how we begin:

Si comincia così: 

New Poetry Book Next Monday / Nuovo Libro di Poesie Lundì Prossimo

Certain as Afternoon / Certo Come il Pomeriggio is ready for you. Next Monday, one week from today, I will post a live link to it on Amazon.com, and you will be able to order it. The price is $10. It will also be available on Amazon.it (if I understand correctly) for anyone in Italy who wants to purchase it. I have not made it an ebook at this time because, honestly, I don’t like ebooks. This book, especially, wants an actual physical body.

Certain as Afternoon / Certo Come il Pomeriggio è pronto per voi.  Lunedì prossimo, a una settimana da oggi, vi darò un link per farvelo trovare su Amazon.com.  Il costo è $10. Sarà anche disponibile su Amazon.it (se ho capito bene) per chiunque vorrà acquistarlo in Italia.  In questo momento non l’ho creato come ebook perché, onestamente, gli ebook non mi piacciono. Questo libro, in particolare, vuole avere un corpo fisico.

Cover design in progress


Eternity, At Least / La Eternità, Almeno

The Dying Man Refuses Clothes / L’uomo In Fin Di Vita Rifiuta i Vestiti

A poem from Certain asAfternoon/Certa Come il Pomeriggio. First in English, following in Italian.  The sample copy of the book is here and is being edited now.  Watch for a live link this month.

The Dying Man Refuses Clothes

in this poem
the dying man
refuses clothes

we try to cover him
with a towel
a cloth

he pushes it
away
he wants
nothing

he is not ashamed
of dying
or being naked

the sisters-in-law
in the poem
turn away

the doctor comes
into the poem
to reason with him

the dying man
asks for
lemon ice cream
smiles with his
teeth and
deep dark eyes

 

L’uomo In Fin Di Vita Rifiuta i Vestiti

in questa poesia
l’uomo in fin di vita
rifiuta i vestiti

cerchiamo di coprirlo
primo con un asciugamano
poi con un lenzuolo

lui lo respinge
non vuole
niente

non si vergogna
né di morire
né di essere nudo

le cognate
nella poesia
voltano le loro facce

arriva il dottore
nella poesia per
ragionare con lui

l’uomo in fin di vita
chiede
gelato al limone
sorride con i suoi
denti e i suoi
occhi scuri profondi

 

Certain as Afternoon / Certa Come il Pomeriggio
coming without a doubt
in arrivo senza dubbio

Whole Fennel/Finocchio Intero

This poem, from Certain as Afternoon, is a the story of a day.   I talk to myself in this poem, explaining to myself what happens on the day Pio is in the hospital for tests, and he calls me to tell me the bad news I have already intuited. Why must I tell myself about it? Because you have to explain things to yourself over and over as you try to understand, open, make room for everything.

In Certain as Afternoon, the voice in the poems moves around.  It switches between pages from first person to second and to third.  The voice speaks to me.  It speaks to you.  It speaks to the one who is dying.  Sometimes the voice speaks to the poem.  Sometimes the voice becomes the poem.  It sounds complicated, but really it isn’t.

First in English, dopo in Italiano.

 

Whole Fennel

when he calls you
on the phone
from the Policlinico to
tell you he is
dying, you say
alright
and
i’ll be there soon

then you go to the
park and walk,
order the trees
not to let you
cry. you don’t want
him to see you with
red eyes and
puffy lids

you stop at the
mercato for his favorites
prosciutto crudo and
whole fennel

it isn’t going to be today,
anyway

at the hospital you will
sit together at a
table in the sun
eat sandwiches

share fennel and
both wonder
if it is true

 

Finocchio Intero

quando lui ti chiama
al telefono
dal Policlinico per
dirti che sta
morendo, tu dici
va bene
e
arrivo subito

poi vai al
parco e cammini,
preghi agli alberi
di non farti
piangere. non vuoi che
lui ti veda con gli
occhi rossi e
gonfi

ti fermi al mercato a prendere
i suoi spuntini preferiti
prosciutto crudo e
finocchio intero

comunque
non sarà oggi

all’ospedale vi
siederete insieme ad un
tavolo al sole
mangerete dei panini

condividirete il finocchio e
vi chiederete
tutti e due
se è vero

Los Robles Jalan Rayos

maybe gerardo was right.
maybe there is something sinister
after all about the robles,
those twisted branches
bewitched with luscious
humid blooms in the
driest sun of february’s
scalding curse

he always said
los robles jalan rayos and
i rolled my eyes
but now i wonder.
the robles were blooming their
wicked flowers
when i knew
something was wrong

you tried not to be sick
but i saw the night sweats.
i remembered jenna who had them
before she died
and your skin’s undertone
went from peach to blue.
i saw it,
while on the robles
impossible flowers surged from gnarled twigs
and fell
from the sapphire colored sky

 

 

 

 

 

Slowly Like Snow

you said take me home
to the sea and
i promised
i would

neither of us imagined then
on those last days of
pain patches and tireless visitors
the weight
of a carry-on bag
with ashes

i tried to lift it
into the space above
my seat on the plane but
couldn’t
the gentleman who helped
eyed me strangely

when the plane took off pointing
toward the endless Atlantic, i
reached for your hand
i really did
but your hand wasn’t there
it was in tiny pieces in
the overhead compartment
and i had only air
to hold on to

i cried then
as we lifted
everyone could see me

you said take me home
to the sea
and i promised

i went down into the water
with your teeth and
your bones pressed into
my skin
and watched
as the tiny pieces
fell slowly like snow
around me

My Window

You all so kindly and generously held onto me through the last unbelievable months.  It seems right to me that I should tell you what comes next, what comes now.   I don’t have a lot of eloquent words, but I can pull back the curtain and let you look out my window.

You wonder how I am.

What can I say? Alright, I think, all things considered. Glad to be back in Costa Rica. Glad to be “home.” I put the quotation marks around the word, because nowhere without Pio feels like home. But Costa Rica is my home and I am glad I am here. I’m better, here, than anywhere else.

I got of the plane from Italy about 2 ½ weeks ago. I moved into a lovely house with lots of pretty wood, an extra bedroom, a huge porch, and my cats. Those things are all good. I got my washer hooked up yesterday, so that took things up a notch. I have a hammock on my porch. My bike works and my legs are catching up to the job of pedaling.

This is the beginning of my second week of work. Work is good. It’s weird, because I hear the truck Pio drove pull up to the office 100 times a day, and it’s never him. Maybe, eventually, I’ll get used to it and stop looking up every time I hear it. His workshop is dark and quiet. Exactly what he feared most. He was so proud of that workshop. I’m doing some accounting clean-up right now, not trying to run the maintenance department anymore. I didn’t love being in charge of maintenance before, and I have no interest at all in doing it without Pio. I’d rather play matching games with numbers. I’d rather sell coconuts on the beach.

You wonder what you should say if you see me.

Don’t worry about it. “Hi, how are you?” works. What are you supposed to say? Unless you say something like “Good riddance,” or “You were never a very good wife anyway,” you are not going to say the wrong thing. And no, I am probably not going to come unglued and bawl all over you if you hug me and tell me how sorry you are. I’ve only done that twice: once with my parents, and once with the closest thing I will ever have to children. So if you’re not my mom and you’ve never called me “mom,” you’re fine.

No, I don’t dread running into you or anyone else. If I didn’t want to see people I know, I wouldn’t have come back to Tamarindo. I would have gone to another province or another country. The only people I actually don’t want to see are the ones that didn’t like Pio–and as you can imagine, it’s slim company.  So, again—you’re fine.

Talking about Pio and receiving the pictures you have of him does not upset me. They make me smile and laugh. They’re like little visits.

But don’t

Don’t talk about “starting over” or “getting on” with life.” Ok? Those are the wrong words. I realize they are the ONLY words our language has for this, but they are the WRONG ones. Don’t say them. I know what my job is now even if I don’t have the right way to say it. I won’t be mad at you if it pops out, I’ll just feel a little sadder and a little more lost.

And don’t say “Everything happens for a reason.” It sounds mean. I’m not telling you what to believe, I’m telling you what not to say. I am at peace with as much of that concept as humanly possible, but I was never a fan of that snooty saying before, and I’m sure not about to convert now. I’m good with, “Everything happens.” Put the period right there. Less is more.

Ashes

Yes, I have them in the house with me.
No, that is not weird.
Yes, I intend to put them in the ocean as Pio always asked me to, but not yet.
No, I don’t know when.
Yes, I tried to open the box.
No, I couldn’t.
Yes, it is sealed.
No, I am probably not going to hold some kind of event where I invite other people when I take his ashes to the ocean.
No, not even you.
Oh, that’s selfish? Ok.
Yes, I will tell you about it afterward.

 

I sleep really well. I’m tired. Everything takes twice the effort. I don’t mean to complain—I’m trying to explain why I sleep like a log when you’d think I should be tossing and turning. Also, it’s warm, and I sleep much better when I’m warm than when I’m cold. I sleep better when I can hear what time it is by listening through my window.  If you live in Guanacaste, you know what I mean: tree frogs and crickets, owls, roosters, monkeys, dawn.

Tamarindo Bay is like a lake right now, but when we get some waves, I’m ready to go surfing.  And then I will be better than I am.  The ocean is big enough for everything.

Positive

I walk a lot. I usually have an actual or imaginary purpose for my walks other than just wandering around. I walk to the grocery store, the pharmacy, a street market, or I explore a new street. There’s something I’ve been thinking about while I walk. Hablando sola. I’ve been talking to myself about it for a long time and I haven’t known how to break it to you. I think a lot of things I can’t say, because there are things you say when your husband has a late-stage metastatic cancer, and things you don’t. Trust me.

This one, I think I’ve got broken down into bite-sized pieces.

So when you find out that a loved one has something bad that isn’t going to go away, people reassure you with things like, “Be positive. You never know,” and, “I’m going to pray for a miracle,” and, “Ten years ago my uncle had stage 4 brain cancer and how he’s running marathons and writing computer software,” or some such thing. And when you first find out there have been monsters lurking in the shadows all this time, those things are very reassuring. Obviously, Hope is essential for Life and Survival, and the last thing a sick person should do is give up hope. Same for his wife.

I’m just going to say that personally, three months in, I’m a little bit beyond the everything-might-be-alright stage. Nothing is alright. And when you tell me to “be positive,” I feel like you don’t get it. I’m not mad. And I’m not going to leap off the balcony. I’m just saying.

Before I go on, let me state that gigantic, cataclysmic miracles are always invited. I know they happen, and they are welcome any time. But if they were normal, or something you should hold your breath for, then they wouldn’t be called Miracles now would they? They would be called Normal. So forgive me if I’m not counting on one. I would love one. You can keep praying for one. But please don’t frown sideways at me if this is all I have to say about miracles. Thanks.

Pio is a really positive guy. He always has been. Me too. I think we’re both about as positive as they come. So don’t tell me to be positive. I was born positive. Pio was born ridiculously positive. Nobody is sitting around the house moping, and all things considered, I think that should serve as evidence that we both ARE positive. Even our blood types are positive.

But I’ve been talking to myself a lot about what “positive” looks like when you have metastatic stomach cancer. Or your husband does. Two months ago, the doctor told us that this isn’t going to go away. So where’s the line between being “positive” and sticking your head in the sand? Hm? A month ago the oncologist told us that she didn’t even want to agree to give him chemo at all, and here he is 3 treatments in and still fighting like a badger. They told us the chemo, if it is successful, could slow down or stop the progress of the disease. Did they actually use the word “stop” or did Pio add that in? I don’t remember anymore. At any rate, let’s not pretend we think they meant “stop indefinitely,” if they even used that word at all. Or, oops. Would that be not-being positive? Is there any value in being realistic? How about reasonable? They very specifically stated that this does not have a cure.

I can’t tell you what’s going on inside anyone else’s head; I can only tell you what’s going on inside mine. And in some ways it isn’t fair, because I’m not the one with anything wrong with me. I feel a guilty doing all the talking, and fear that I may be misunderstood as trying to make this all about me. So, read on at your own risk. Yes, this is about me. It isn’t about cancer. It’s about holding on and letting go.

To me, today, being “positive” means putting my big-girl pants on every single morning when I get out of bed.  It means finding the courage to be a cheerful presence in the house–not too much; just enough.  It means finding a reason to go out for a walk in the fresh air, and going. Being positive means looking right at all the ugly things that are happening and taking a deep breath. And naming them. It doesn’t mean pretending they aren’t ugly. Or pretending tomorrow they might wake up suddenly pretty. Or pretending that any day is going to be better than today for a long, long time. Being positive right now, means acknowledging that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, because I’m sorry but it is, and it doesn’t help you or me to pretend it’s not. And it means believing that someday things are not going to be like they are today.

Being positive means that I find the good things about each day and deeply enjoy them. The red ball of the sun rising quietly over the Duomo at 7 AM. Whatever crazy neighbor that is who has a ROOSTER in Milan that I can hear crowing before traffic noise starts. Giggling with Pio at breakfast about his crazy hair. Peaches. Proscuitto cotto. Homemade chocolate pudding. A visit from Kiara. A silly tv commercial that makes us laugh. The bread Pio suddenly got up from the couch and made on Saturday. Thunder. A rainbow. A long walk during which I talk to myself like a crazy lady, sneak out a few tears, hum a song, buy an ice cream cone. Checking the surf on the surf cam in Tamarindo. Watching the evening news with Pio as night falls. Getting up to click the light on so I can keep crocheting while he snoozes. Drinking chamomile tea together. Listening to him breathe while he sleeps.

Send love. Send light. Send good vibes. Send thoughts. Send prayers. Pray for a miracle if you dare, but pray for an atomic one, which ends in surf boards and motorcycles. I’m not interested in piddly little miracles where we all suffer for miraculous amounts of time. Wish us a good day. Wish us more good days than bad days. Wish us sleep—that’s always a blessing. Wish us peace. Wish us unexpected laugher. But don’t bother with, “Be positive.” I am positive. Absolutely positive. Entirely, and without the shadow of a doubt.