Gwendolyn Cash

Thoughts from the Waiting Room in St. Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver

In spite of bald facts, pain
is no longer something to consider,
any more than yesterday’s
stale news, suicide
bombers kill thirty, the dusky
seaside sparrow and golden
toad extinct. Cancer
is encoded in the genes.

Consider the whales,
generations, pods, beached,
fouled in nets, harpooned
and split apart, the great hearts
burst open and the spines
weathered and withered
useless but as anecdote
or artifact to what we have
and have not done.

Consider the many failures of love,
its hijackings and dark glasses,
covert operations, and the aftermath
of scorched earth campaigns.

Consider the unseen, wings
broken after an angel’s
paralyzing fall, a rib crushed
in a beating, the neat dimple
on the forehead of the executed
when the skull swallows the lead.

Consider the surgeon,
the fine mind and sterile hands, the feet
somehow childish in blue-booted
scrubs, heralded by buzzers and crashing
steel doors unlocking only
from the inside, his sure stride
toward the woman slumped
in a mustard-colored vinyl chair,
her pink blouse spotted with coffee
spilled from a paper cup.

Consider the clearing
of his throat, his manner of folding
his arms on his chest, his voice soft
almost sympathetic, Are you Mrs. Costanza,
already knowing the answer,
and for this small lie, you might want
to forgive him.

But consider what your bones
have been telling you every day
as they slide back into the earth.
There’s nothing he can do but fling
these few words at the full moon
of her face and wait
for the shadow to fall.

What gets me is this—
if you are paying attention
at a time like this, really listening,
you can hear the salty river
of the world’s unending grievances
rushing in your ears and oozing
like sweet molasses on your tongue.
It follows, then, that pain,
at least the way we remember it,
is always yesterday’s news.


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