By James Hoch
The man lying in bed is dying
from cancer, flecks of bone
flow like ice in his blood.
Outside it's snowing,
lightly in the street, white petals
from a pear tree.
Everything is starting
to feel immense. His children,
like four pylons,
quietly resemble each other.
They pull at glasses
of Dewar's. They can't help
but notice the petals, the snow
blowing together in the street.
They chat politely, take salt
from his forehead,
on their lips, as they go
out the door, agreeing
he looks bad. They don't know
the man's floating on
a blue raft, an ocean, a small
Pacific. He's smoking
a pleasant cigarette; it's nice,
lukewarm, no undertow.
From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World, in which Robert Pinsky writes, "James Hoch's poems approach subjects such as grief, loss and violation in a way that feels freshly inspired by reality. For example, instead of resorting to the literary or cinematic cliches of a deathbed scene, he manages to express the limited but distinct good of pain-killing medication." The poem is original, he notes, in its "series of cool, all-but-detached observations...the Dewar's, the polite chat, the pathetic flatness of words such as 'he looks bad.'" Ultimately Pinsky finds the poem positive, giving "a kind of smiling, humane element" to death by cancer: "The attempt to think what the morphine sleep might feel like is the poet's version, in art, of the jokes that are part of a funeral or wake in some traditions.
We are in Pennsylvania at apaulled's parents' house, where we had lunch and discussed the latest political insanity of the nation, then went to Gettysburg Battlefield, where we first let the kids climb on the rocks at Devil's Den since they needed some run-around time, then went to Seminary Ridge to see the Southern state monuments and the end of the reenactment whose cannons we had heard all over the park:
Reenactors below Seminary Ridge during a lull in the fighting.
And another resting outside his tent.
The North Carolina memorial, rather reminiscent of the Iwo Jima memorial.
44th New York Monument, Little Round Top, from Devil's Den.
This tree above Houck's Ridge looks old enough to have been standing at the time of the battle.
The area behind the boy resting in the sun is part of the Slaughter Pen which is being cleared of trees so it looks the way it did during the battle.
After a brief but necessary shopping stop, we had Swedish meatballs for dinner (one of my mother-in-law's specialties) and then birthday cake, belatedly for one son, early for the other but it was the easiest time to celebrate both since my in-laws were away in July and will be away again at the end of September. In addition to Maximus the groundhog, who is looking larger than ever, there were three large bunnies in the backyard munching on grass through the meal. Then we watched Boston clobbering the Orioles in a no-hitter while the kids pretended to do homework, griping that they were being forced by their mean parents to do that and take showers rather than making Lego spaceships.
We'll be at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire all day Sunday -- Don Juan & Miguel, the Mud Show, the Globe, the Ultimate Joust!