The hood obscures his face. He stands
with his back to me holding
what looks like a hockey stick.
He is always there but never near.
When he does turn I know
some part of me will welcome him.
Proliferating cells will leap forward
or others thin and break.
Perhaps, even now, he watches
the bullet fall off an assembly line,
or counts the clicks
as I book a seat on that doomed flight.
He has smothered children in their snowbank tunnels,
extinguished mothers on their beds of labour,
escorted heroes of the revolution
to the guillotine or gulag,
blessed my parents
with heart attacks.
I listen to my steady thump,
diet and exercise and take my meds.
I am full of hope.
But when he turns, I know
it will be my heart
Mark the Date
I am dying, Egypt, dying
Mark Antony said that afternoon
three years ago, when we walked
from the British Museum to the Globe
and paused at St. Paul’s for evensong
on the walk back.
Now I am in Act Five.
Week by week I ebb.
I can’t walk across the park,
can’t walk a block,
can’t go outside.
A flight of stairs looms
between me and bed.
It is fast, but slower than I expected.
My father and his father
dropped at work.
My mother and her mother announced
I don’t feel very well. I think
I’ll just lie down. And never
In any century but this
I would put my affairs in order,
plan my funeral,
summon family, give them
the last bits of wisdom from my
But now I contemplate these miracles:
how Beethoven arranged black dots
on paper to make emotion,
how that emotion reliably
lowers my blood pressure.
How Miss Jane Austen’s heroines –
Elizabeth, Emma, Elinor – all surmount
their problems of the heart.
How soon masked men will
set my breasts aside, to break my sternum
and touch my heart. They will cut it,
sew it – after taking a deep breath in
like my mother when she cut into
expensive taffeta to make a wedding dress.
Poem for the Bones
My bones conspire against me.
In whispered clicks,
tarsus to talus to cuneiform,
they plot which will slide,
which will shatter.
They weren’t always like this.
I slid into the world
cartilaginous as a shark.
Skull bones slid over one another,
compressed me into air.
Now I am as tall as they are long,
used to hearing Hey Sir! from behind.
And now patella bitches at the quadriceps femora,
socket pouts at ball,
and in spite of all that calcium
I am an inch shorter than I used to be.
I always thought of my bones as
the only part of me that might
have an afterlife.
I see them hung on a frame
in the anatomy classroom,
skull modestly inclined, smiling.
Misled by length of tibia and femur
the students will call me