Dead Sea by Alan Dragoo

Friend, you came to my room

in days when I lay abed

my body torn and spent 

by chemotherapy

and you encouraged me to rise from my bed

to help you rip out

a unwanted built-in dresser, cabinets

and a pink Formica counter top that affronted our eyes

for years.  I admired your skill with pry-bar

and then with patching plaster

as you mended holes in the wall.

Dead Sea

By Alan Dragoo

Written November 2, 2007
 
Men must endure
            Their going hence, …
  Wm. Shakespeare, King Lear

1

Friend, you came to my room
in days when I lay abed
my body torn and spent 
by chemotherapy
and you encouraged me to rise from my bed
to help you rip out
a unwanted built-in dresser, cabinets
and a pink Formica counter top that affronted our eyes
for years.  I admired your skill with pry-bar
and then with patching plaster
as you mended holes in the wall.

Now, a tumor has grown
in your body and we hesitate to say
what it portends. The incipient cancer
has led you down
its meandering barren paths
that twist and diverge among the rocks. 
At last, they will lead you
to a dying sea,
where there is no way back. 
Our frail prayers do not suffice
to deliver you or to bring fresh hope
like the geese’s return in spring
come over you
with a soft whir of bright wings
to your life-forsaken body,
            We know the clock is ticking
            toward the hour when its alarm sounds.
            Hours gathered into days
            and days into their detritus of weeks.
            Doctors could not stem the course
        of your disease  
        your frail body was flung down at last, 
        like a rag-doll carelessly dropped on the
        and you lay for days
         beside a sea of death
              on its gritty shore. 
 
2

Like a man who, clueless, followed a sandy track
leading out of a village, crossing the streets leading back
into the square.
and traveled on, searching,wandering–
leaving his days like houses, empty and blank,
sun bleach, where only the wind plays
among barren frames, like rib cages of animals–
a track winding between the round hills,
coming at last to a dying sea.
There, rank waters lap the bitter sand. 
As wise men of the village say:  
often travelers here miss the subtle ways, take
    the wrong roads twisting off into the barren land, not turning  back and following a long abandon track                                                                                    
to a dying sea,
not turning back
while there is still time, they disappear: Each day, lost
like someone stepping into a darken room,
where death waits to embrace them.
They disappear like grains washed down a sandy slope,
vanishing at the water’s briny edge,   
days slip  past hope.
Turning at the last hill
Turning back to find where
The path has gone wrong
Coming at last to a sea that is dying:
Coming at last to the hour of their dying.
Coming at last to the water’s edge.
Finding at last hope has turned bitter
as the water has turned bitter.

The man at the dying sea
struggles to crawl up his life’s sandy ledge
when time cannot recollect itself at the water’s edge:
where little wavelets lap languorous circles
on a parched shore:little clocks ticking
out his fading desolate hours
when he knew he was wandering 
hours when he knows himself doomed to languish
by a dying sea.
    Hours, when he has little time and hope
        before he dies.
His clocks
 ticking
away the hours until
life fails him
    Each day, his sweet waters of life
      Will vanish like a vaporous dream,
Each day, he will find himself  stranded
helpless as a frail fish on a dying shore.
his final, fevered hours,
will remind him of tomorrows,
him will never see.
 he will lie beyond our reach beside
 that dying sea.
Dark carrion birds will circle
Overhead
cawing their 
Condolences about his bed.–
Are we born to feed
The ravenous feasts of circling birds
  or are we to hope for grace
 and a place beyond our mortality?

Why must the innocent perish
Before their time and the young die so soon?
Each night children die in the slums of Calcutta
And Port-au-Prince; in barrios of Caracas.
Our frail animal bodies cannot last
Despite our desperate prayers,
our grand dreams,
            and our pious hopes
My body fails today
to be what it was before.
I can only mourn
for promises of tomorrow
now fled. 

For you dying
beside that dying sea,
We have no elixir
to restore you. 
So much hope has faded with each day
your way back is uncertain
    and nothing is sustained:
eyesight fails and  our voices crack and fade.
When I embrace you in parting, I can feel
The hard edge of your shoulder blade,
Like a slab, pressing against your skin,
where muscle once would have been.
Then I  know that your cancer is taking you away.
Seeing is believing, they say.
My touch disproves what my sight would
have me believe
that you will be here for another day.
 
Lost on a dying beach,
you will not hear
the music
and timbre of our words;
each morning
a new stiffness will burn
in your joints,
    until you cannot rise
from your sandy rack.

Soon  your last dream will vanish
In that wind mourned land
Soon you will lie forlorn, your tattered dreams
forsaken on that bitter sand. 

 

3.

In your illness’ final days
 our murmured prayers
        will not suffice
for you abandoned
in this waste:

We fear our final decay
in a grave
beneath the sod,
 beyond 
where sight, thought or hands
can reach.
Are we bound
for a heavenly home
to sing in angelic chorus
around a crystal throne?

Or, are we doomed to fires
of a mysterious hell?
Or, are these stories
that grown-ups tell
            children
to calm their troubled sleep
and command a desire for right?
                Must
we trust the final dimming of the light?
 

4.

We must not be surprised
In ensuing days
That you will vanish slowly
Before our eyes.  Later
We may not recall
The words you said.
Soon our memories
Like wind-blown sands
     will hide you from our sight
    like the grains buried
    beneath an hour-glass’
    falling stream of sand:
    your bones will slip
into their forgotten sleep,
and you will be carried away
into the unfathomable night;
    then you  will drift free into
        that alien
        space, silent,
        beyond
the opalescent moon.

Your bleached bones
will enter the sleep of stones
beneath the ever-falling sand.Through the open door
With so little fanfare, an era gone.

Shadows of former trees,
salt-blighted like a disease,
stand sere and gaunt,
like iced trees after a late winter stormy blast,
wrapped white by ice and snow.

Our tears
wetting the dry strand,
cannot call back the fleeing day,
cannot revive you again.

How will we remember you
when you are no more?
will we say, one day:
“You did your deeds,
earned your degree,
set the record,
made the score?”

    we wander our arid urban
    paths in our vacant land
    to find the ever flowing
        spring to assuage
    the daily desiccation
        of our souls.

Generations have walked their ways,
marked their images on stony walls.
now the sand covers them all
where they lay. Animal moans fill the night
where once ancient ones cowed
    from tooth and claw.
       
            We imagine their days
            from potsherds and bits of bone,
            eroded statues
                and tumbled stones.

Tomorrow, when others walk
the way you  have gone.  Your bones
may tell them, a you laid your body
down here one day.
small creatures will hid then
in the shadow of your bones
when the night wind that moans
over these forgotten sands comes
to wake them from their sleep.

 5. 

You will sleep the long sleep of death
    until the morning when stiffness
leaves your once burning joints.
    You will sleep deep and dream
like a pebble hidden beneath
        ripples in a stream,
waiting for a  small hand to reach
beneath the surface’s rippled light
    and raise you again
    to the world of sight.

    In the quiet days of death’s sleep
        our bodies will linger
    in shadowed halls:
    in realms beyond our beliefs
        They will wait
    for their regeneration
    in flowering bud and uncurling leaf.
In persistent dry days
You  will wait  long
    With frail hopes
        For the time
When sap runs sweet again:
    after months of cold
doubts, before the time
    when white zephyrs drift aloft
sending murmurs soft as whispered breath
    over the warming earth,
then, one morning you will awake
        after ages of silence
to your hour of birth,
bone will unite again with bone
and your scattered frame will rise
again from the silent earth.
You will rise again to your flowering forth
like blades of new grass greening
        in a barren field.

Day-by-day blossoms will erupt
on stems to wave above the earth:
    snowdrops, crocus, daffodils,
    azaleas dogwood cherry, crab,
    lilac and pear—
will parade in the warming air.

In sunny spring, you will awake
like a winged thing, red
from its dry chrysalis of flame
and raise your new body
from your earthen bed.

6.
       
        Like the blind man who,
        when given sight,
         saw the trees dancing
       
        Tell me, at the window,
        Are those new leaves dancing
            In tender chorus
along apple boughs?
Or, angels whirling
Like dervishes
            At heaven’s gate?            Tell me how.

My brain staggers now
        At all their spinning multiplicity
            I see,
        upon a bough.

    I can’t know in my life
     all the stars in the sky
    or sand upon the shore.

Tell me how to know
    the world before I go
am I too late to count
     
   them, or no?

        They         wander    like sheep
        upon a hill.        They            refuse

        to be         herded    back
        corralled into  generalities.

Will I have to count
the wandering herd to know
        them now?

7.

Thou, who creeps over me
alone on my final strand
besides this dying sea,
lost in this troubling night

        Why do I fear you
            god or man?
or, dread the fading of the light?
You who have given me each day
That I gladly received
        before the dimming of my sight
        you nurtured me each day,
        like a child at its mother’s breast
        and filled my days to overflowing,

Thou whom I fear
    I would receive you gladly
        here.

                I pray
    To rest forever in your peace
While eternal sands spread
in sibilant whispers
Over sea and land.

                Amen.

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