How it steals up on you, this mortality,
dropping its calling card, say, after the flight
back from your friend's wedding, six kinds of wine
on a stone veranda overlooking the starlit sea
while migrants labor in the fields beneath.
One morning you bend down to lace
your sneakers and find your leg stiff as a base-
ball bat. How many times you told yourself Death
wouldn't catch you unaware, the way, alas,
it did so many of your friends. That you'd hie
yourself off to the hospital at the first sign
of trouble. And then, when it should happen, as
it has, you go into denial once again, while your
poor leg whimpers for attention, until at last you get
the doctor, who finds a fourteen-inch blood clot
silting up your veins there on the sonar.
Mortality's the sticking thinners twice
each day into your stomach, until the skin screams
a preternatural black and blue. Mortality's
swallowing the stuff they use to hemorrhage mice.
It's botched blood tests for months on end.
Admit it, what's more boring than listening to
another's troubles, except thumbing through
postcards of others on vacation. Friendly Finland,
Warsaw in July. Mortality's my leg, her arm, your heart.
Besides, who gives a damn about the plight of others
except the saints and God? But isn't death the mother
of us all? Shouldn't death mean caring, the moving out
at last beyond the narrow self? But who has
time for that? Six wines on a stone veranda,
stars, a summer moon high over Santa Monica,
cigars from verboten old Havana, live jazz.
That's what one wants. That, and not some blood
clot clogging up one's veins. No poet will ever
touch again what Dante somehow touched there
at the Paradiso's end. It was there he had St. Bernard
beseech his Lady to look upon him that she might
grant him light and understanding, which he might
share in turn with others. Lady, cast thine eyes,
I pray thee, down towards me. I cannot take much height,
though God knows I've tried. Six wines, two cigars,
a summer moon over the veranda, where I kept tilting
outwards, my veins absorbing even then the gravitas of silting
while Love was busy moving the sun and other stars.
Paul Mariani teaches poetry in the English Department at Boston
College. His essay "Inside Story," on why poetry is true, appeared
in the Spring 2000 issue of BCM. Viking will publish his
spiritual memoir, Thirty Days: On Retreat with the Exercises
of St. Ignatius, in March.