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Someone on TV Uses the Phrase, ‘The Soul’s Smile,’
and I’m wondering just how soulful
it might be if we could see it—
a flash of teeth, white (not whitened),
like a choir of angels singing I’m A Soul Man?
But just as I’m having my superior laugh,
your white-haired, godly face barges in,
and here you are, dying all over again in my mind.
It’s an end of the week late afternoon
and a few of us who have come
to the hospital are caught up in the usual
meaningless politics of the school
where we all teach, bitching about
an impotent administration, and the new
evaluative tools of colleges gone corporate,
when, at last, we look over at you
who are dying in pain, and you’re just smiling,
so far beyond our chatter it seems you’ve learned
the alchemy of creating something wonderful
out of anger and frustration. Or maybe
I just wanted you to be our Prospero,
your comic vision of life returning the world,
same as always, but seen with new eyes
and a semblance of order never glimpsed before.
I don’t know. But, standing there, complaining
and joking to cover our pain, the slow surge
of your smile took us all in;
and, while nothing in it contained a message
from another world, I knew right then and there
how much I needed to let go of
in order to say, as you did, so gently
and without the slightest hint of hurry,
that you needed to lie down now and sleep.
Robert Cording, Ph.D.’77, is the Barrett Professor of English at the College of the Holy Cross and the author, most recently, of Walking with Ruskin: Poems (2010).
Read more by Robert Cording