My friend Nicole sent me this poem today:
DIABETES James Dickey, 1969. (he was diagnosed with diabetes in his 40’s)
One night I thirsted like a prince Then like a king Then like an empire like a world On fire. I rose and flowed away and fell Once more to sleep. In an hour I was back In the kingdom staggering, my belly going round with self- Made night-water, wondering what
The hell. Months of having a tongue Of flame convinced me: I had better not go On this way. The doctor was young
And nice. He said, I must tell you, My friend, that it is needless moderation And exercise. You dont want to look forward To gangrene and kidney
Failure boils blindness infection skin trouble falling Teeth coma and death
In sleep my mouth went dry With my answer and in it burned the sands Of time with new fury. Sleep could give me no water But my own. Gangrene in white Was in my wifes hand at breakfast Heaped like a mountain. Moderation, moderation, My friend, and exercise. Each time the barbell Rose each time a foot fell Jogging, it counted itself One death two death three death and resurrection For a little while. Not bad! I always knew it would have to be somewhere around
The house: the real Symbol of Time I could eat And live with, coming true when I opened my mouth: True in the coffee and the childs birthday Cake helping sickness be fire- tongued, sleepless and water-logged but not bad, sweet sand Of time, my friend, an everyday A livable death at least.
II Under Buzzards [for Robert Penn Warren]
Heavy summer. Heavy. Companion, if we climb our mortal bodies High with great effort, we shall find ourselves Flying with the life Of the birds of death. We have come up
Under buzzards they face us
Slowly slowly circling and as we watch them they turn us Around, and you and I spin Slowly, slowly rounding Out the hill. We are level
Exactly on this moment: exactly on the same bird-
plane with those deaths. They are the salvation of our sense Of glorious movement. Brother, it is right for us to face Them every which way, and come to ourselves and come From every direction
There is. Whirl and stand fast! Whence cometh death, O Lord? On the downwind, riding fire, Of Hogback Ridge.
But listen: what is dead here? They are not falling but waiting but waiting Riding, and they may know The rotten, nervous sweetness of my blood. Somewhere riding the updraft Of a far forest fire, they sensed the city sugar The doctors found in time. My eyes are green as lettuce with my diet, My weight is down, One pocket nailed with needles and injections, the other dragging With sugar cubes to balance me in life And hold my blood Level, level. Tell me, black riders, does this do any good? Tell me what I need to know about my time In the world. O out of the fiery
Furnace of pine-woods, in the sap-smoke and crownfire of needles, Say when Ill die. When will the sugar rise boiling
Against me, and my brain be sweetened to death? In heavy summer, like this day. All right! Physicians, witness! I will shoot my veins Full of insulin. Let the needle burn
In. From your terrible heads The flight-blood drains and you are falling back Back to the body-raising
Fire. Heavy summer. Heavy. My blood is clear For a time. Is it too clear? Heat waves are rising Without birds. But something is gone from me, Friend. This is too sensible. Really it is better To know when to die better for my blood To stream with the death-wish of birds. You know, I had just as soon crush This doomed syringe Between two mountain rocks, and bury this needle in needles Of trees. Companion, open that beer. How the body works how hard it works For its medical books is not Everything: everything is how Much glory is in it: heavy summer is right
For a long drink of beer. Red sugar of my eyeballs Feels them turn blindly In the fire rising turning turning Back to Hogback Ridge, and it is all
Delicious, brother: my body is turning is flashing unbalanced Sweetness everywhere, and I am calling my birds.