Preparing the Body
for Dylan Thomas
A man whose voice commands the most fickle ear
to fall silent and listen, you’d expect him to outrun
the length of a hospital bed, you’d suspect he knew
just how to woo death into giving him a few more
rounds of Tullamore Dew, straight, to even the score.
But, my God, what a bore to be wallowing in sheets
tinged with the smells of death, the slow drip
by the bedside counting down the seconds until
a mind feverish with words writes its epitaph.
I saw him once, you know, at a reading over at the Y.
He sang the most elaborate curses from the platform,
but that’s why even the stuffed-shirts showed up
to bear witness. You don’t realize what fire is
until you’ve heard his voice like a blow torch,
though now it disappears within the shell
of this shell-shocked skin. Poor John,
you look as if you’d seen a ghost, as I pass the cloth
over an alabaster hand, stubby as a child’s. What
remains untouched by this hand, John, is worse for it.
If only I could say these things out loud—oh, well.
His chest sobs now, weeping for what the heart lacks.
The spider’s web of perspiration covers every inch
of white skin, some invisible black widow spinning
her quiet work within his body. The softened brain,
once brilliant, reaches through the dark
to turn off its flickering light. Lungs coated
in the familiar scent of tobacco heave and sigh.
Even a poet is finally made human, each vital part
paying penance for his sin. But no matter as I raise
the stiffened sheet—he will not wake again.