for my Sister Sheroes, Gone


I was awakened by a gasp, a coughing and puffing

as if something irrepressible was seeking to take


control of something uncontrollable. This was the night

after my own surgery; tubes connected to tubes


everywhere on me, I managed to sit up and push

a button. I wanted something to happen to cut off


that coughing. I wanted someone to come and relieve

that woman next door. But the button I pressed had


become mute. The whole world must have gathered

around her bed, but the coughing lived on and on,


so I sat up in bed, knowing how keeping vigil can help

lead the spirit upward kindly. So, why does a woman


in the room next door die? Why does she have to die

or is she not dying, I wondered. In the morning, there


was an army of people crowded in both my doorway

and hers, a whole troop of her relations, until


the entire hallway was clogged up like an old pipeline.

Maybe, they needed to help her spirit rise. Maybe,


they needed to hold hands around her dead body so

she would return to us someday. Maybe they needed


to be, the way we want our children to be while we

are still alive, while we still have eyes to see them


love us, while we still have air in our lungs to breathe.

Afterwards, there was a silence as still as that calm


before a tornado arrives, before a Hurricane or that still

moment when the storm has long passed, after the wrecked


houses are bent and tree limbs have given up

their ghosts, and limping over, and the wrecked lives


of the whole town lays wasted and broken and the air,

ashamed of itself and the ground, having been betrayed,


awaits healing. My husband, down the hall, is blocked

by her army. I sit in my bed waiting, and finally,


my husband comes in, looking like someone who has

come out of the rain, unsoiled. He looks at me as


if relieved that I was still alive. He stares into my eyes

as if to say, “She’s gone,” but on his lips, no words.


Maybe he saw her stretcher wheeled away. Maybe, he

saw her family in tears. When I later tell him about


the coughing woman, he stares ahead, “She’s gone,”

he says, my fellow cancer patient next door, gone.