week 5



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OTHERWISE, by Jane Kenyon

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
mik, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.


Each morning I made my way  
among gangways, elevators,  
and nurses’ pods to Jane’s room  
to interrogate the grave helpers  
who tended her through the night  
while the ship’s massive engines  
kept its propellers turning.
Week after week, I sat by her bed  
with black coffee and the Globe.  
The passengers on this voyage  
wore masks or cannulae
or dangled devices that dripped  
chemicals into their wrists.  
I believed that the ship
traveled to a harbor
of breakfast, work, and love.  
I wrote: "When the infusions  
are infused entirely, bone
marrow restored and lymphoblasts  
remitted, I will take my wife,  
bald as Michael Jordan,
back to our dog and day." Today,  
months later at home, these  
words turned up on my desk  
as I listened in case Jane called  
for help, or spoke in delirium,  
ready to make the agitated
drive to Emergency again
for readmission to the huge
vessel that heaves water month  
after month, without leaving  
port, without moving a knot,  
without arrival or destination,  
its great engines pounding.


Two Poets, One Illness