The purple dye in the needle makes the spine shiver.
An anesthetic makes it possible to live with it,
as the slackened body, enclosed in a tube, is scanned
and catalogued. The pain is bearable. All pain is bearable,
but that is not the point. Nor is the relativity
of the material world more than mere discussion: a few
suicidal philosophers debating coffee cups in Munich.
Can the cup contain the heady argument,
inventing an after-life, distilling it, and then refusing it?
Is the surface—the metaphor for flesh—mere laminate?
The robe she wore as they wheeled me in
was blossoms and reeds, dreamy verdure, half-consciousness,
half-willingness to die. The abated body’s still flexible,
so I was evolving backwards: an elephant’s
trunk, an eel, a paramecium. What drove me back was being,
beginning inside. The flesh baby pink at the entrance.
The howls that follow begged no interpretation:
all that prodding was clinical: pure neurological necessity.
Doctor Dombronowicz, whose Polish family was snuffed
(all of it) in one year—the desperate Forty-four,
when Hitler’s aids saw the end to the experiment—told me
“Surgery will re-fuse the spine.” Or, “Surgery will refuse
the spine.” the rejected body: I spied it
wheeled out after the operation, pale enough to be bone,
to be none, and soon would be. Chalk. Wafer. Shell.
Do you know the expression, “A mere shell
of himself?” It was time to say good-bye to Jews in Camps:
To identify is the task for science. The year I was born
Uncle Sidney was the trope for Treblinka.
His measured skull and nose, the declivity, was pure semetic.
You see what nonsense language is, how the equation’s quaking,
defending itself against the needle spear,
against the gas etherizing agony? You can be devoted to pain,
or surgically cauterized. The doctor knew my uncle, barely.
As a boy he watched him in the orchestra,
detailing Wagner to someone like Waldheim, one who’s not
responsible. A current runs through the nerve conduction test.
If the muscles work, you can’t patrol the twitch,
but if not it’s like being deaf, like being dead, like being,
when love’s extracted, like a stitch before the wound has healed.
I came back to my partner, as she appeared to me,
when the gas began to take effect. Paralyzed, I saw myself,
the sufferer a few mere years ago. In that stretch-out haze
before going under, she was beatific
(not the real one, sleepless, outside, ringing her hands with fear),
this idea of her, her fingers green and tendril-like to snag
me back, to delete a little history, so a moment
might gleam, leaf-like and tropical, sheath-like, libidinal.
Too much to ask? As a boy the doctor was retrieved
(no reason given) to save and restore. The bed
too, is a chamber, a vestibule, between here and there—
the unimagined and the impalpable. All the waking senses
point to vertebrates, searing away the spinal nerve,
with her voice attached to my wrist, twisting it, making plans.
We’ll go skating, she says, skirting the issue, surrounding
it, refusing the dreaded half-century,
fifty years later. Winter Solstice, Nineteen-ninety four.