Dedicated to the memory of Earl E Hellerstein
December 11, 1920 - September 7, 2009
“O God, O God,” my father wailed.
I sat beside his deathbed and held his hand.
That was the best I could do.
O God, I forgive you for not existing.
You are perfectly innocent.
Unreal deity, your alibi is airtight;
you were not present at the scene of the crime.
But God, maybe I am mistaken.
Maybe you do exist after all.
And maybe you’re responsible
but you have a reason, a justification,
a plausible excuse.
Well if so, then it had better be good.
O Death, what are you grinning at?
Is this another one of your stupid jokes?
Like; are you better fast or slow?
Should you come all at once
like you did for Mom,
by surprise, almost painless, leaving us in shock?
Or slow, gradual, with plenty of painful warning,
leaving us almost ready when he died?
I get it, there’s not much difference to the living,
and there’s no difference at all to the dead.
Ha, ha, very witty. Ho, ho, that’s rich.
Another useless lesson. Thanks for nothing.
Death, you falsest of friends and truest of teachers,
my father has graduated from your school.
He knew your ways, he battled you all his life,
and he always lost the fight, but won the argument.
So riddle me this, Death;
you child of nature, you son of a bitch;
he understood you all too well,
but did you ever understand him?
O Nature, ever transforming
ever dying, growing and birthing
like the forest in the back yard
visible through the window from his deathbed;
Beloved Nature, immortal mortality,
you’ve already forgotten him. You’ve moved on.
The birds still sing, the trees are still green,
the sky is still blue, as if nothing has happened.
Well, that’s only fair. It’s logical, it’s honest.
Nature, you’re too fair, too logical, too honest.
You’re so fair that you don’t care.
You keep all of your promises, but you take back all of your gifts.
You gave my father life, and then you took it away.
Life was Dad’s diagnosis, his pre-existing condition,
the cause of all his suffering, fortunately temporary.
Well, my father was too honest too, so for him I say;
Mother Nature, you’re a bitch.
O you glorious cosmic chaos
I doubt he understood you
I suspect he didn’t like you
but I know he always loved you, unrequited.
Here he lies, obedient to your laws.
O Cancer, you child of nature, you son of a bitch;
you have made the wrong enemy.
For you have meddled in the affairs of doctors
and they are subtle in their wrath, and cold in their vengeance.
Cancer, you deserve to die.
Every cell of you, everywhere, without exception.
Beware, you illness; my father’s colleagues will hunt you down.
My father’s friends will ransack cell, gene, molecule and atom.
They will learn your secrets,
and they will forge weapons
and they will attack
and you will be destroyed.
Cellular rebellion, you will be suppressed.
Chemical chaos, you will be extinguished.
Genetic error, you will be erased.
Cancer, you traitor, you killer, you torturer;
my father’s friends will come for you. Count on it.
O Father, why need I speak another word?
What should I say, and why say it to you?
These people listening in, they want poetry,
but what use have you for culture now?
They want your story, but I can only tell mine.
Like at my wedding, you stood up and defined a good man
as one who made the world better because he existed.
I say you qualify, but of course I’m biased.
Shall I describe the day I left?
The day before Labor Day, the day before you died;
Two days before my thirteenth wedding anniversary?
I sat at your side, holding your hand,
reading you sonnets from Shakespeare,
playing CDs of Mozart and Miles Davis.
I hope you heard them, but there’s no way to tell.
My ride to the airport arrived at exactly 5:30,
I said goodbye, I kissed you on the forehead, then hurried out.
My friend stowed backpack and suitcases in his car
then told me to check if I had left anything behind.
I rushed back in and ran around.
I’d left nothing in the bathroom, in the bedroom, under the bed,
in the basement, the kitchen or the living room.
I scratched my head. What was left?
Still lying there, gaunt. No pain. Staring at nothing.
Mostly interested in the next breath.
So I snuck up to you, kissed you again, and fled.
Dad, I address these words to you in vain.
You aren’t here to hear them, and these others listening in,
they think they witness at a distance.
They think they are separate.
They think they are safe.
They are wrong.
Father, I forgive you for no longer existing.
Your work is done, your research is complete, your war is over.
You can go now, we’ll take it from here.
Farewell forever, Dad.
And may peace be unto you
and unto you be peace.