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Before the Recovery

ISSUE:  Summer 1979

this room might have been an operating theater
before it became the field
where our hearts were raked over to find
what they died of. i could have told

the man in the white mask who stood just back of your ear
how much more to give in order to break
the rhythm of your farewell oration, you could have shown
our reading of the symptoms slipshod, how much did it take,

in the end, to put you out? not much more than you felt
deaden the skin so the laser could cut in
and ease the one part of the brain we knew needed rest,
that white cauliflower of evil where speech had been

we severed, in the perfect solace we have made
we can ask the consulting pathologist whether the patient
   died for a song
he could not sing, whether the physician erred
in assessing both fault and fee. before long

from the telephone booth whose lines are cut
i shall tell you what you think, without a sound
you will tell me what i think,
we shall both be wrong.

in every court where the art of dead reckoning is known
the price we have paid will be held fair.
only when the skull, whose lid had been lifted with one edge
   of a knife, was shown
jiggling open to let the steam out, hissing, as it curled the hair

did i see how uncertain a gift it was to fix the cause,
how can i tell you what it was like
that final and original departure of your voice
which i had loved?
         the failure of love will make us die

as the mask filters the gas we call our air.
can i say at the finish i was there /
when you were not there?


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