This protocol will continue until Tuesday morning, when I get delivered to a centrifuge for six hours of stem cell donation. I've got the books set aside and the iPod charged. I picked up Natasha Trethewey's Domestic Work and Bellocq's Ophelia and am finishing up Daniel Swift's Bomber County, a beautiful and thoughtful memoir about his grandfather, an RAF pilot shot down down over Holland in 1943. Trethewey, the current Poet Laureate of the U.S., evokes mothers living and dead in a modest beauty that is rooted comfort and truth. And Swift conjures a man he never met through the words of war poetry--reluctant, welded words of memory; a reconstructed life.
In "Gesture of a Woman-in-Process" Trethewey captures two women from a photograph taken in 1902:
Around them, their dailiness:
clotheslines sagged with linens,
a patch of green and yams,
buckets of peas for shelling.
One woman pauses for the picture.
The other won't be still.
Swift captures a different "dailiness" through the words of Randall Jarrell's war poetry. Writing from the base in Sheppard Field near Wichita Falls, he creates the following image:
To form a line to form a line to form a line;
After the things have learned that they are things,
Used up as things are, pieces of the plain
Flat object-language of a child or states;
After the lines, through trucks, through transports, to the lines
Where things die as though they were not things.
Walking toward Cornell Hospital yesterday morning, the bright sun warming the sidewalk, greyed by cool wind, I saw a man washing the side of his truck. In the infusion lab up on the third floor, the nurse and technician stood in hospital shoes, organizing stacks of paper, bags of syringes, bottles of medicine. The clean truck and the clean lab--their dailiness.
While I sat in a chair having blood pressure and temperature measured, giving up a vial of blood for one final test, shaking hands with the doses of neupogen crawling on all fours in their infancy of cell production, I looked across the floor to two chemotherapy patients, taking their medicine ("to form a line to form a line to form a line") and I measured the years of Jarrell's life (1914-1965) against Mom's (1933-2012) since she was the last person I saw tethered to such lines, a long distance from the clotheslines in our backyard, where clean sheets waggled between among apple, pear, maple and pine trees.
Three receptionists arranged my delivery to the lab; an aide from Gift of Life followed up with a phone call; a man swept the sidewalk outside the hospital as I left; a cashier took my money as I tucked books into my bag at Shakespeare & Co on 68th and Lex. Everyone works so that things don't die as things, I thought.
And again, a thought of Mom, her face, annoyed and disgusted by her predicament from January to July: "I'd rather be at work," she said one day last spring. So we went for a walk down to the lake. She grabbed a lilac branch from a bush we passed, plucked thyme from someone's sidewalk garden, was dumbstruck by May tulips.
Yesterday at dawn a morning star and sliver of waning moon hung, suspended in the sky; and then at dusk the heavens were made up, brushed with blush for the week's end.
As my bones began to ache and my head filled with flu-like symptoms, two side effects of the drug, the hubris of my own comic book heroism of Peter Parker faded, "creased into texture--a deep relief--the lines like palms of hands I could read if I could touch." Tired hands of those who work, in their "dailiness," to save lives.