I made a vow to love whoever I encountered.
It wasn’t true yet, but came to me in the bathroom
looking at the purple tufted rug that boys’ shoes had trucked on.
There was a salt jar there too. And all these abstract paintings
I was entering and leaving. I stepped out
of the bathroom and saw the host’s white bedspread,
a corner of it, and some fabulous pillows.
I pictured a slew of children and mythological characters
sleeping together in front of the television. It was cozy there
in the silence, words floating up from below.
And it made me want to try harder.
In Italy, the buildings are for beauty,
and beauty, says Joseph Brodsky, is the enemy
of a hostile world. “Salve,” says the customs man
when he stamps my passport.
Which means, “Hello.” With the ve
jutting out its lower lip. Salve, at the bar.
And in the chapel built by plague survivors,
salve, says the cupola. Salve, says the floor.
In the Giovanni and Paolo hospital
the old wing opens out like fields and windows
in a Van Gogh painting, light penetrating halls
and making space in silence. No one’s there at all,
but—salve, salve, salve, salve.
When I return to my more brutal realms
the word comes with me. I don’t declare it.
How light in my suitcase it is, how old-fashioned
and almost ethereal, but in some lights
real, and close enough—to salvage.
Appointment in Samarra
30 people in chemo today multiplied by
x hospitals in y countries and z universes.
Back here, H smiles through 4 syringes of chemicals, 2 bags of saline,
and a flush of life-giving killer liquid.
Twin sisters in their 70’s share clippings of their modeling days
with shirtless men in big cars, take selfies holding up their matching drips.
A woman in the corner looks exactly like what is happening to her.
Pale and bald like coal after a fire.
Slap me good and hard with mortality while I’m strong.
My body wants to run as though it’s seen a ghost.
My Sisters’ Sisters
I am one of my sisters.
The one who refuses, goes inside
and draws her knees to her heart in a small ball
turns toward the wall waiting for someone to come
and for no one to come.
I am one of my sisters: I do not cross
the threshold where danger lies, its flank
on a couch of cossacked hopes
roaring its helplessness through the malice
of tongue and hands.
That one who closes the door
who remembers only enough
of what was inside to stiffen at its name.
I am one of my sister’s sisters who pounds
more than a thousand nails,
one for each name of her missing sisters, into dead wood.
I can feel her shiny hammer on my shiny head.
One sister raises her sisters
on her hands in an auditorium of her sisters.
I am the cancelled and begun again sister, reinsistered,
the one who goes back into the room
to tear the air from the walls.
A Blessing for the Waning
Here’s to the last suck before the birth of separation, before gums have teeth.
To skin that’s soft, brown, rough, cracked, bruised, itching, callused,
folding over, touched. To the body held, whole unto itself.
Here’s to what the body was before anything changed, which was never.
To the original flat chest of everyone.
Here’s to the growths, hoped for and maligned.
The deletions, depilations, bargains and beseechments.
Here’s to loss of consciousness remembered waking up in the morning, in recovery,
bewildered, with toast in your mouth.
To the sleep that was good but is now interrupted and induced.
To pain that lodges and travels.
Desire breathes like a tide, goes a long way out
and surprises when it comes back in a swell.
The way grief does.
Here’s to falling and to falling, and to falling falling.
To the curse of forgetting and its gift, forgetting.
To the gift of remembering and its curse, memory.
To having had a life. Us creatures and our smells.
Here’s goodbye to clothes that fit another body.
To the last embrace you didn’t know was last until there were no more. Here’s to
kissing the last mouth on yours. Pucker up. Pucker up now and go.
Then the light on the television went out.
I turned over on the heating pad trying
for a comfortable position on the floor. I got
to the section of the 400 page book called epilogue
and did not want to go on.
I went for my notebook, but the pen
was just too far on the dark field of the carpet.
Maybe the radio.
Instead I lay quietly listening
to the subway, feeling it under me
like an animal rubbing itself
along my personal earth
and beginning to enjoy it.
Ronna Bloom has published five books of poetry, most recently Cloudy with a Fire in the Basement (Pedlar Press, 2012). She is Poet in Community at the University of Toronto and Poet in Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital. Pedlar Press will publish her new book, The More, in October 2017. Her website is www.ronnabloom.com.