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In Memoriam:
Franklin Walker III, 1954-1988

Some days you slept through my visit,
your eyes not quite closed, but your breath
even. Leafing through Vanity Fair,
or Spy, whichever you'd requested,
I'd squirm in the squeaky leatherette chair
and finally sleep if I wasn't rested,
my legs stretched out and my feet tucked
between your mattress and the bed guard.
Sometimes you'd sort mail while we talked,
sitting up, your knees sharply bent,
your checkbook sliding down your thighs,
another well-meant get well card
splayed open and pitched like a tent
on the foothills of your sloping sheets.
One time, when Bunny brought you sweets--
imported, creamy, wrapped in foil
and eagerly devoured--I shrank
to see the empty box on show,
as if it were dark chocolates, Frank,
that made your T-cell count drop low.
Somehow I though it more loyal
to frown on what you shouldn't eat
and cook brown rice with miso soup
(a Jewish daughter's chicken broth),
as if the food you wouldn't eat
could make you strong. To think of it.
To think how I used to criticize
most what I loved, the extravagant cloth
and substance of your obdurate self,
the cashmeres, leathers, silks, all stuff
both of us prized and coveted,
which you admitted and I did not.
Lanky in your hospital gown,
your high black cheekbones hollowing,
the IV's curling tendril dug
like a thorn into your wrist, your nails
turned black and ridged from AZT,
you wondered how the odds broke down--
would they invent a miracle drug?
Would you survive past thirty-three?

Your patients think you have a cold;
you keep appointments on the phone.
Your parents think you're out of town.
Only closest friends are told.

Potted plants, fresh cut flowers,
friends who call from overseas,
and friends who visit at all hours,
lift your spirits by degrees.

Both men and women nurses flirt
because you're sweet as columbine.
Outside your room's a "Danger" sign:
contagions present; red alert.

Needles go down a special slot.
Linens into a covered bin.
Across the way, doves in a dovecote
burble and coo, as you grown thin.

Blue masks protect you from our breath.
The staff's equipped with rubber gloves.
It's part of life, outwitting death.
The columbine's named after doves.

A dovecote is a columbary.
A columbarium's a shrine.
You grown more skeletal and weary
until your skin begins to shine.

One afternoon I took a cab
from Mount Sinai to a psychic on Fourth.
We inched through midtown rain and traffic,
zigzagging between lanes, edging
forward sideways like a crab.
Blocking jaywalkers near St. Mark's,
the driver, clearly psychopathic,
warned me away from weirdos, punks,
and other vermin I might meet.
Then he sped up and lurched to hit
every pothole in the street.
Below his rearview mirror, dice
entangled rosary and cross.
I thanked him for the free advice
and rummaged in my purse for change
though thinking only of the loss
to me if you should up and die.
He must have found my drawn look strange.

The front room was an unkempt shop--
boxes of dusty crystal points
stacked on milk crates against one wall;
the glass display case countertop
crammed with bowls of tumbled quartz,
amethyst eggs, and tigereye.
I looked at chips of opal, jade,
a garnet in it granite matrix,
emerald, turquoise, aquamarine.
Polished amber, light as a leaf,
warmed my open hand. A ball
of deep-blue gold-flecked lapis spun
a double helix up my spine--
or was it just the shivers when
I heared distinct derisive snorts
and someone tapped me from behind?
It was a balding snub-nosed man.
He led me into an inner room.

Jeweler's scales stood on the desk.
Bottles of tincture lined the shelves.
He said to sit, to close my eyes,
align my higher and lower selves.
Looking past me, he read my aura,
then accessed the Akashic Records,
a kind of karmic accounting book,
flipping through pages in his mind
with fervor, like a student of Torah.
I blurted out your name to ask
the fates how I could help you live.
He cut me off with a look:
"His eyes won't close until he's died.
You're neither mother nor lover, although
in a past life he was your son.
It's not your place to be his guide."
It startled me he mentioned your eyes,
as if that was too much to know.

Too much for me to know. Too much
while you still live to think of death
as your new friend, the rest of us
forgotten. "Fake it till you make it,"
you would say. So I try
to picture you, your red bow tie,
your quick uptake no one can touch;
the way my forehead reached your waist;
the time we rode on an all-night bus,
and how, that once, we kissed. I play
the years backwards till we meet.
The cafeteria. Noon. You've just
woken. Your roommate's girlfriend waves
and introduces us. I taste
it all again and let the years
build up with visits back and forth
till we both live in the city and
I'm standing on the street in tears.

A yellow shaft of light
hovers above your bed.
You watch it with delight.

The dust motes swirl and dance.
Your rapt dreamy look
catches me off balance.

Standing near your bed,
I'm talking on the phone,
not hearing what is said.

I watch you lift your hand
and turn it in the light
as if you hold a strand

of pearls--and now I lose
the phone call's slender thread.
The sun's full on my face.

The caller doesn't pause.
Slowly you move your hand
and with your fingers trace

the sunlight in my hair.
Your palm brushes my cheek.
I say I'll call right back.

Our fingers interlace
and make a latticed sieve
to cup the buoyant air,

scooping light like sand.
Days later you are dead.
The roses for your grave

are yellow like the sun.
Like light, like air, you live.
We drop them one by one.

-- Carol Moldaw

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