HER LAST AUGUST

SHARON OLDS

for Jane Kenyon

Underwater, I lay back,
on the bottom, and looked up, to wait
for the gray shape of the wave to pass over
like a swarm. It did not pass and did not
pass, and then I understood
I had been lying there for a long time,
and I woke up. The moon past full
was behind storm-clouds. My friend had said
feeling empty might always be part of my life,
feeling like nothing, and seeing the shining
on others, the shining which might be cast,
partly, by the watcher’s spirit. Then he said
our sick friend is sicker, she needs
the marrow of her bones replaced,
and it doesn’t sound as if she’s strong enough
to survive that; and in my fear
and ignorance I said it wasn’t
the worst thing, a bone-marrow transplant,
and he said, he had to go, now.
Hours later, I thought of her,
in her bed, on the morphine, the leukemia thriving
insider her bones. But soon again,
then, I was thinking about myself.
I can’t seem to keep my mind on anyone
else. I guess this is a breakdown, or I’m waking
up to who I am – I am like everyone,
sometimes so miserable that I can hardly be civil.
I think Jane would understand that.
How has she sung with such clear grace
and power in the grip of the dread of life?
How can she have suffered so much
and now be suffering so much?
For moments, in the high wind, the scud
thins, and the moon is visible
in the second night of losing her upper left
temple. The nimbus and overcast
and fog and cirrus rush over her slowly.
One cloud seems to stay on her face,
and then I see that that is her face,
steadily singing from long practice
and endurance. I do not know how to live.
There are things I need to see, which I cannot
see, though I think they are in plain sight,
but I do not know where they are. But Jane
can help me there. I pick up her book
at occluded sunrise.

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