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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
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.
the neo-renaissance style
of New York Hospital.Outside
the last thing his eyes took in
three chimneysa crematorium
a red-tiled roofat the back
the medical center,
a world of vanished routines,
your home and your rooms suddenly emptied
of yesterday's light.
beyond the foot of the wall. Like
a crimson tongue silently encompassing
Roosevelt Island the river
Shocked by the sight ofpower soaring above him
and dark glass
ready to forgo the knowledge acquired
to cope with self-examination, studying
summoned up and recruited
to cut throats
still inside. Outside
a small finger fumbles for
that bag of skin and bones,
to say through dry lips:
No! to the knife.
A second time.
Fiction caught in the thicket
Dr. Strong is a large-limbed man,
a surgeon brimming with confidence. When he talks
about cancer of the throat, the head or,
let's say, the larynx,
chasms melt away. But when he draws near
the edge of the bed and looms
over your face, your heart falls
before the cold blue of his eyes,
an indifferent patch of sky,
and you shudder like one
challenged to stand up for his right
to live, even with closed eyes.
A second. Another
half second–and after
nine hours of anesthesia,
when you return and open them,
and speech rises and is heard
floating out of the darkness,
a still, small voice,
you know a little more about the natureof the heart
and the world and the man
whose hands have done everything for you
that a man's hands can do
and the rest is with heaven - - - -
Sloan-Kettering (its full name: Memorial
Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center)
is a large and growing building
and all those who come within its walls
jointly and separately,
suddenly find themselves
in a cage, captive, exposed
and the silence astounds on all
its many floors
and when a patient
cut off from his supervisor
finds himself running
from room to room
with no idea where to turn
first, peering down the glaring corridors,
half-open doors and half-
Sloan-Kettering is a personal encounter
with a pathless wilderness
between yellow arrows
and blue signs
something obscure is going on
in the feverish cells
of your brain
at the entrance to a triple elevator
that has not yet
opened its maw
like a desert
beginning to take shape
into his veins,
like death. Like his name spelled out
in a foreign language
dripping from every telephone receiver
and receiving an American reply
to soothe the foreign breast
You are welcome, sir.
Doesn't cost a cent. He marvels:
the fingers of the black nurse on duty
are like the velvet pads where Mother
a sweet velvet pad like
She looks at him but sees nothing:
Your pulse is fine, sir.
Copyright 2002 by Abba Kovner