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Author of this poem:

Robert Rhodes (Yao Xin)
(October 3, 2010)

Visiting The Matisses

Afterward, in the elevator at Sloan Kettering:
she knew the verdict, too, of course, because she was there.
It could have been worse, but you never know.
That's what they said: you never know.
In the dark, in the room with the doctors,
lit by the yellow and blue and vaguely green scans,
a weather map of my sick, invaded bones,
I looked at her and thought I saw
the Sea of Japan reflected in her glasses,
her fingers pressed to her lips.

In the elevator, we were alone.
Her arms around me, she seemed to sleep.
I stood stiff and awake, as if I would never
allow myself to sleep again.
In the Afghan restaurant, off-hours silent,
she said out of nowhere, "I think
we should make that trip to the Hebrides.
I know you're not going to die,
but we should go there anyway. You never know.
That's what they said. Besides,
maybe something will happen to me."

Even as children, inseparable, it was where we had dreamed
of living forever: just us, alone like now:
the sea, the wind, the saltwater landscape of our DNA.
Both our families were from there, and home
meant nothing to me but her.

Like a promise she said, "I will
never leave you. Not for a second. At least
for a little while we can have
the life we always wanted. Six months:
I will give up anything to make it happen.
The house in Memphis. I really don't care."

Six months. I was thinking the same thing and yet
I wanted to tell her no. When she
glanced at her watch, I knew she had decided.
"I can swing it," she said. "You just sit back."

Checking the time, I saw we had
three hours before our train to Pennsylvania.
I had to do something.

"I want to go and see the Matisses," I said.
"I want to see them now, this afternoon."
I thought that would cheer both of us enough
to stop and think about what would come next:
nothing probably. Usually, it's nothing.
They said that, too.

Out by the curb, flagging a cab by Cooper Union,
she looked at me and laughed
and gently pressed her fingers to my lips.
"I think the Matisses are dead, darling.
I think you're a little too late for that."

As always, she carried the joyous scent
of rain, like a girl.

Humming Bird

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