I feel unhelpful sending her poems, but they are all I have. Lizzie emailed me because two of her friends’ fathers are withering away and she is only thirteen and she needed to tell someone.
I loved my friend. He went away from me.
Not even Langston Hughes can untwist ALS. Poetry can’t stop cancer. You don't even have to respond, she said. As I type back, I think of my own dad’s swollen ankles three pillows high on the couch, soccer commentators yammering at low volume, a blue cuff pumped around his left bicep. Blood pressure’s 118 over 80 today. Pretty good, huh? Yeah, you’re doing just fine, Dad. I google the figures later.
Vin calls me that night because I’m his best friend and, he says, Things aren’t good.
Gotta keep this hush hush, but Sally’s dad…maybe I’ll have to fly home for the funeral…
all I know is he didn’t show up for dinner and all the lights in the house were off. There’s nothing more to say.
I stay on the line as nighttime gusts whisper across my face. Days later I learn he fell off the roof when cleaning the gutters. Sally is only twenty, and when she rushes into the taxi that afternoon she doesn’t care how it happened. She calls Vin because he loves her and she
needs to tell someone.
What do I know about loss? Hearts crack all around as I crawl in the dark. In 1967, Hughes dies of cancer at 65. Poetry can’t stop cancer. At seventeen, I sit at the bottom of the stairs, my sister Caroline at the top wailing to Mom on the phone. Why aren’t you here, she weeps, why is no one here with us? The room is burnt yellow, charred candle wax and aching wood, tired beige wallpaper. The old dog slowing under my palm, his pills salved to the rug with saliva. Thick May air sealing us inside.
The poem ends, soft as it began—His swollen heart thuds under a warped rib cage. I knew when his jaw buckled to the floor and his nose crumpled against the stair. I loved my friend.