There’s a point, still as the center
of a compass, when one believes
that most of what can happen has
already happened and all that comes
after this will be easy. The last time
I thought that, I was changing clothes
in a motel room. In an hour, I would
read my poems to an audience quiet
with wondering why they were wasting
a Saturday afternoon in April
listening to poetry. The mirror
on the closet door reflected the mirror
over the sink, and when I stood
between the two, I could see
the new thickness that swelled
my back and shoulders after
a year of afternoons in the gym,
hours I might have been writing poems
or reading Christopher Smart.
Not bad for forty-one, I told myself,
buttoning the shirt I wore
to give readings that year.
Three weeks later the doctor called.
He told me hepatitis, a word
I’d always associated with clematis,
so I thought of gardens, of vines
and black flowers, of plants
whose predatory beauty, untended,
might smother all they touch,
the way morning glories once stampeded
the tomatoes in my father’s garden,
wrapping them in a green web,
tiny purple flowers trumpeting sunrise,
singing my failure to do the weeding.
He said hepatitis C. I only knew
of one kind, the kind that kept
Gary Carden out of school for six weeks,
the kind that turned old junkies piss-yellow.
The kind that went away.
One night, maybe the night
the tenacious virus entered my blood,
I stood before a terrarium
filled with carnivorous plants,
watched them stir and quiver
at heat and motion, swaying between
animal and vegetable. Bloodless,
they lived on blood, could have lived
on the blood running in the fat veins
praised by the first guy to hit me up,
his lanky fingers poking the inside
of my arm. Then we opened the soil
of my body and gave that vine
a place to take root. But before
the call from the doctor or remembering
the glass box of wet-looking plants,
I was just a man getting dressed
in a motel room, a man certain
that hard part was done. If I could
speak to him now, I would say
You think you’re finished?
This has only started. Nothing
has happened to you yet.