From the Publisher
“A work of self-commemoration that takes the side of continuing existence . . . A book written from the dark side of alienation . . . it shimmers with the dark radiance—the stark beauty—of last things.”
—Edward Hirsch, The New York Times Book Review
“Moving . . . In these plainspoken poems . . . Kovner meditates on the possibility of heroism in the face of illness.”
—The New Yorker
"Abba Kovner wrote about his impending death with a broken heart—a heart laid open to longing, to memory, to love, to the ugly details of cancer treatment. The Sloan-Kettering Poems are unsentimentally, passionately, furiously alive."
—Anita Diamant (author of Saying Kaddish, The Red Tent, and Good Harbor)
"Here is a work of art, masterfully presented."
"Abba Kovner was one of the greatest poet-fighters in the Jewish tradition. I grew up in his light, as did many of those of my generation. He was a hero to us all, and a splendid poet. To read, hear, experience the intimacy of his last months—that is something very powerful."
"These are beautiful, stern, lacerating poems written by a genuine hero as he was dying of cancer. They detail his struggle to bear witness to the destruction of his body and the perseverance of his will and identity. It is a terrifying but superb legacy he has given us."
"In this deeply moving collection, Kovner shows the same greatness of spirit in confronting cancer that he showed in confronting Nazis in the Vilna ghetto."
—Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People
Read an Excerpt
And like that the door opened without a click pushing aside the shifting straw curtain his shadow entered followed by the man with his mane of dark hair a young man with large eyes
At once they took their places at the head of his bed
(the shadow quietly folded itself away between the sink and the bedpans)
and with the stance of a Trappist-to-be he declared: "The time has come.
"My time has come?" he trembled.
"That's what I said," he added like a professional phantom.
"Where are we going, do you really know the way?"
"We are taking you there." He fell silent.
"Can I ask a question?"
(The swine!) "Let me take a towel,
some soap, a book?"
"Unnecessary. Anyone who enters comes out as he went in."
At once he turned to leave. As he went out,
trailing after him came his smell, his shadow and his dread.
II. THE CORRIDOR
He fell asleep under strange skies
He fell asleep under strange skies.
Vaulted windows the neo-renaissance style of New York Hospital. Outside the last thing his eyes took in clearly:
three chimneys a crematorium a red-tiled roof at the back
the medical center,
a world of vanished routines,
your home and your rooms suddenly emptied of yesterday's light.