Poem For a Friend Growing Lighter and Lighter

Abe Louise Young, Poetry

1. diagnosis: glioblastoma

Your left hand is a dead fish, your left leg a sunken anchor, your

left eye a black mussel

It forgets to move back to the margin to read the next line

You shave only the right side of your face, write only in a tiny column

on the far right edge of the page                       Truly,

I must emphasize, I ask you to

please empathize with me whole-


Oh yes, my friend, I do commit to you entirely,

to the best of my ability,

within the limits of our mutual fragility

2. questions for the surgeon

What are the colors of a neural network? When you sew, do you sing?

Are brains as singular as faces, do they twitch, grimace, get shy, look away?

Is it wet in there? Does it ever flood? How are we to trust your puncture

of the skull, your laser in the sea? Will you show us your scars?

3. questions for each other

How are you?

I’m on the barbs of stars

How are you?

A bug eating through the shirt someone draped on a stone saint

How are you?

Soft moldy orange with a white-to-green halo

How are you?

Sexual hopes redeem my fears

How are you?

Lamotrigine, Clonazepam, friendship and gliding

How are you?

Just like you—a septic tank covered in honeysuckle vines, leaking time

4) the math stage

Tomorrow, next week. Soon, later, after-

ward, immediately, you say, looking

for options to multiply.

Only one arm, one leg

working and a galloping brain tumor

is a bastard equation.

You need no solving, no saving,

but salve me.

We do not say anything about forever, finally, lastly,

in conclusion, in summary, or all in all.

Let x still equal x.

5) –the anger stage

Friend, here is a remedy: imagine yourself already dead.

It’s a pain reliever. Imagine the words

we’ll say about your life, how sparkling your heart,

how you called your tumor The Little Prince.

Imagine the Hebrew songs we’ll sing at your memorial

under cedar trees and Illinois sky, imagine our

teardrops falling one by one onto the grass so soft.

Six hundred people will attend and astonish your parents.

Listen to the words we’ll speak. Hear your story.

Remember, to some people you were

a clear, unbreakable mirror: we saw

our souls in you

and knew that we were good.

6) –ICU

night sky bright black

little dipper silver

infomercial on mute

every room on the hall

full of lonely twin bed


little dipper pour it all together

into one bowl

stir in goodnight moon

slice of sweet melon

7) –the revelation stage

The speech therapist holds a paragraph up

about a boy who writes a grocery list,

then goes to the store for milk and hot dogs.

She reads it out in a chilling baby voice:

So he got to the store and bought hot dogs—

but what did the boy forget? Hmmm? What

did he forget, Mr. Shefsky?

You try hard to remember but can’t.

I’m a vegan, you say, that’s why

I can’t read this stupid thing.

Oh wait, I know—

the boy who went to the store?

He forgot his mother

8) –biotech

‘A cluster of human nerve cells

has been grown

on a silicon chip,’

your caregiver reads lyrically from the NYTimes Magazine,

handing over your chemo pills

and you lurch up in the bed

to yell,

Fuck them.

Fuck them.

Yes, in the name of our medical dystopia

and your bald, angry, dapper, Victorian,

pee-in-a-bedpan self,

fuck them.

We will defend you

from everything unliving.

Silicon chips

have no right to congress

with human cells.

9) –duet

Can I tell you a secret?


I’m wearing a diaper.

That’s great. We should all wear diapers more often.

Are you talking about something else?

Like what?

Are you making a metaphor for the indestructible soul?

I don’t know. Is your diaper uncomfortable?


Then yes.

10) –balloon

On the phone to you in the Illinois nursing home,

I narrate my summer garden

in Texas

Green lizard jumps on the hammock,

Oh yeah, big daddy!

He struts and pumps his orange balloon throat,

I’m male and I’m virile!

He’s one big green phallus singing,

I’ve got what it takes, baby!

Then the black crow swoops down and whips him by the tail

into her craw

You start to cry

I’m sorry, I didn’t—it’s not an allegory

It’s just a story with the wrong plot

You are angry

I talked about virility

and killing

and you want to hang up

11) –transit

There’s a full lunar eclipse and I’m outside your

new ICU to feel the difference in the light.

Two blind girls walk the garden path, whispering.

Their white canes trace faint crescent moons

into dirt and their soft shoe soles erase them.

12) –prize

You told the hospital chaplain

Here’s how I feel about my spiritual life—

Vultures, big witches,

ate all of a deer on the highway

but the bones and the heart

and now a golden mountain lion creeps down

for the prize

13) –the end stage

You are the narrator

of this journey in an electric bed

on oars of your voice,

rowing your tumor

across the river. It’s epic,

the act of dying. It can take

a damn long time.

I wish as payment

I could draw your fine

Sephardic profile in gold paint pen

on the palm of the bill collector.

Who’s here?

Please hold my hand.

Your voice is the oars, the boat,

the weather, the light,

you are entirely



slowly turning

into a cloud shawl

blowing in the doorway,

a sheen of sweat

without a body

14) –you left your body

There is no word

for how an immense ocean of freedom can become captured

& like oxygen, re-


15) –birth certificate

I dip the paper in water.

Watch it swell.

Wood pulp cells fill.

The ink feathers.

An assertion

of your birth

becomes a murmur,

then defers.

The paper remembers

its mother.

Is there any more

reason for words?

16) –stone spiral

I drive far from the city

to the North woods,

build a fire, strip off

my clothes under the night sky,

open the urn,

pour fine powder palm to palm,

rub my body

with silky grit, stroke carbon

ash on my forehead, belly,

cheekbones, arms and legs,

bathe in it, you glow, you

taste like nothing

else I know, come,

let’s wade into

the river now, breathe

deep, dive, let’s go—