Move Pen, Move
[Excerpt from John Donne’s ‘Death, Be Not Proud’]
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Stay. That’s what mothers say when their sons and daughters go away. They say ‘stay’. My mother said go.
So, I wasn’t there the night she fell out of her wheelchair, so frustrated that she amputated her own legs, or rather tried to. With a steak knife. Her life leaking out on the white floor, blossoming like roses in the snow. Our relationship was an anthem composed of words like “gotta go”.
So we went. And sent our regards on postcards from all the places we’d been, with stories about all the things we’d seen. That’s how it was with you and I. Why say goodbye when we could still write? And then it took your hands. We should’ve practiced our goodbyes. Because then it took your eyes. And I was somewhere in the middle of nowhere, watching the sun rise over a stop sign placed down the centre line of a highway filled with sudden turns for the worse.
Running back home because I got to play nurse. Got to figure out which pill alleviates which pain, which part of your brain is being used for a boxing bag, as your body became a never ending game of freeze tag taking place in an empty playground. I was left looking for your limbs in a lost and found. And I couldn’t set you free. So we just sat there, our heads bent towards each other like flowers in the small hours of the morning. While light wandered in like a warning that time is passing, and you right along with it. Bit by bit, every day. And all I could say is, “if I could I would write you some way out of this, but my gift is useless.” And you said, “no. Write me a poem to make me happy.”
I wrote “move pen, move. Write me a bedroom where cures make love to our cancers.” But my mother just motions to a bottle full of answers and says, “help me go.” And now I know something of how a piano must feel when it looks at the fireplace to see sheet music being used for kindling. Smoke signalling the end of some song that I thought it would take too long to learn. So I just sit here watching you burn away. All those notes I never had a chance to play, to hear the music of what you had to say. I count out the pills just to see if I can do it. And I can’t even get halfway through it, before I turn back into your son and say, “stay”.
I could hook up my heart to your ears, and let my tears be your morphine drip. And maybe it’s easier to let you slip away than it is to say goodbye. So I hold my breath, because in the countdown to death the question of ‘Why?’ melts into ‘When?’ How much time do we have left? Because if I knew what I know now then; move pen, move. Write me a mountain, because headstones are not big enough. My mother says, “stop it. Write me a poem to make me happy.”
So I write this; “Stay.” She smiles and says, “Gotta go.” I know.