Poem for Tony Hoagland, RIP

Fuck Cancer
~for Tony Hoagland

I could say fuck cancer
but cancer never seems
to get fucked,
and all these repeated incantations
reverberating in kitchens
and hospital walls
like backwards Hail Marys
or curses of wind
expelled when stubbing your toe
on the dark corner
of the coffee table,
in the end, they’re just words,
creature comforts like chocolate cake
or favorite characters in a sitcom,
and it’ll never stop,
despite the stadiums filled
with pink scarves, pink socks,
pink shoelaces and gloves,
the pink will disappear from the faces
of the ones you love,
they’ll slowly turn an ashy gray,
waxy synthetic, almost mannequin-like,
only their eyes will remain
glossy and wet, quarters in a creek bed,
shining up at you on the bank,
someone so stupid,
you believed sometimes
coins carried wishes,
and even if they don’t,
people keep throwing them in,
so many coins, so many scattered prayers,
the stream shimmers like a disco ball,
and even if you died right now
there’s something beautiful
about that, something disorienting,
a virtual vertigo of the senses
spinning in a captive body,
when death’s black jaw yawns
so close to the ear
its breath raises the fine hair,
that whisper of finality
like trickled drips down an IV line,
a sound not unlike a fountain
found in a Buddhist shrine,
so hard to discern the difference
from the echocardiogram
and the scribble of a poet’s pen,
perhaps why it was once a custom
to place coins over the eyes of the dead.

Universe in a nutshell poem for Stephen Hawking

~for Stephen Hawking

What if every life is just an unwinding,
an unraveling thread of spirals,
branching out by years and days and choices
in wider and wider arcs until too large
to be sustained, each person their own
universe, an expanding golden ratio
of Fibonacci arms reaching for other arms
of other universes like brain cells
illuminating electrical clouds of REM sleep.

First born, the spiral is tight and small,
an infant fist closing around a mother’s finger,
but as the child grows the universe unfurls
and something gets lost, old connections fade,
the stars at the center begin their inevitable collapse,
family and friendships become occasional phone calls,
intermittent trips home for funerals or birthdays
or weddings to strangers,
and so the cluster of brightness at everyone’s core
begins to dim, and this we call dying.

If only there was a way to share the light
without sacrifice, to keep every star burning
like a perpetual fission furnace of love,
to hold hot coals in palms without being burned,
to tell every person every day that they are oxygen
and each breath is a flame, each heart essential
to the beat of the next to be named,
perhaps this cycle of expansion unto retraction
could balance itself out, find an equilibrium
where instead of competing for space to grow,
we allow the other to overlap our own
and these entangled galaxies
to become one,
just one set of breathing lungs.