The Tubmaster

"Never once the rock we carried."

But let’s be honest and admit that, at the end,
Her standards were slipping. Take the tub:
Cloudy. As I told her sister: starting now,
I must be the tubmaster. But did that start
This week? Memory’s judgment is severe.
It keeps telling me I should have known.
“I’m a playwright, not a housekeeper,” she
Would not have said, though in fact in her
Year’s last life she won some stupid award
In some festival in Leipzig. We’d have gone
But what a year. But what my old teacher, Mark,
Always taught me was that the poem’s stakes
Must be as high as possible. Take yesterday:
I was talking up my geographic perspicacity.
“We can even go to a party in the Bay Area,”
I said. “The other day I drove there and back
Just to kill my wife.” This was too much. Don’t
Say stuff like that. Still, one must consider
The three pillars of forensic culpability:
Propensity, opportunity, and motivation.
My best friend is actually a double widower
(I half expected him to say: “first time?”),
And his third wife the boldest of queens.
Do not we always trust the ones we love?
And—and here, dear reader, we must arrive
At the stakes—how much might you know
About end-stage heart failure? Imagine
Being sucked cold by vampires for years,
Slumping into a grumpy, choking blob
Like a human time-lapse cantaloupe.
Maybe you’re a saint. She was. Yet even
The saints shall find no peace; for hope
And peace are profoundly incompatible.
Every night, the transplant coordinator
Will torture your sleep. Whilst you slowly rot.
At least it doesn’t snap your bones like cancer.
What a world has all our art and artifice made!
The libs are right about some things, you know…
I geeked out at some length with the head
Of the department. He has the lost accent
Of my grandpa. He has been doing hearts
For sixty years. He never stands to lose one.
His theory: her pacemaker wasn’t working.
Hence the fragile right ventricle, already
Grossly distended, just burned itself out
In a bad rhythm, like a redlined engine—
If that also cooked the transmission and alternator.
She was fifty. She looked forty. And not
One of her organs was worth saving. Still,
Had she not won the race? “Like one who runs
For the green cloth, at Verona.” But still
We are dodging the stakes. Exhibit A:
The poem, posted three days prior.
Defendant uses the word “death”
Eleven times. He quotes Blade Runner
I have asked myself a thousand times
And it’s still April: as far as I knew,
I knew nothing. What did I know? And if
I even said to her, that Easter evening, “Honey,
Every time you’re on the bathroom floor, it
Turns out badly.” She would not let me
Take her to the ER until three, and then
I could not get her to the car. She was so cold…
“I’m so cold,” she said… so cold and so wet
The thermometer did not read, nor the pulse ox…
The screen was a tomb… The tomb was empty…
I learned later it was cardiogenic shock.
That was how little I knew, how I tried to know,
How she knew, how she lived, how she needed to live.
I think her liver had been dying for two weeks.
My daughter said later: if she’d been $relative
Every other Facebook post
For ten years would have been about her heart.
On a planet that falls on its knees to the victim
She lived only for her children and her husband.
And she died for us, too. Hence the motivation.
I don’t mean that she planned it, like some ice-queen.
I mean that she was the rock we stood on,
Never once the rock we carried; and until Saturday
She was more or less herself—less attentive, true,
To the many duties of the house. I lost track
Of how often she said: “I’m not your secretary!”
Such a pathetic, unending parade of regrets!
And yet—well, if our little outfit was an army
I was the air force. She was the infantry.
Would you spend two years losing a war
Or two days? Such the scale of the gift…
Those ambulance lights, vanishing down the drive…
The hospital actually changed the rules for us.
First, she couldn’t see her kids. Then, she could.
Higher than hell and artificially inflated
By a million-dollar temporary pump,
But “nodding appropriately” and still all there,
She tried to say “I love you” through the tube.
She tried to write a note but was too weak.
(Isn’t this stuff banal? It will happen to you,
Somehow.) Next they tried a plane ride.
They told me to drive to San Francisco,
But at Donner Pass they called and said
To turn around. They couldn’t stabilize her.
Then a expensive plane ride… as I later
Told the kids, “Mom had already died twice
On Monday…” they sent me home at three.
The chief nurse had choppered in from ‘Nam.
Her name was Kelsey. She was insanely pretty.
And Kelsey, at nine, had been pretty happy,
All things considered—though I did hear
Another nurse telling her: “It just broke my heart
When they couldn’t get her on that plane.”
Kelsey, now a veteran of Khe Sanh,
Said: she’s in the air, but her heart stopped
While we were putting her on the machine. For
How long, I said. For five minutes, she said…
Now I am here in the cloudy tub,
Soaking in the world a dead woman built.
Literally soaking in her: her DNA, if
Cleaved by Oxy-Clean, is in the water.
Where is she not? I see her in the pigeon
On that pole—one tough pigeon
For these trashless, hawk-ridden hills—
The artillery flowers of a desert spring,
The shining white mountains of death
Beneath a timeless and lapidary sky.