Take Care

           When a man dies, he does not die of the disease he has;
          he dies of his whole life. –Charles Peguy

Our neighbor Laura Foley used to love
to tell us, every spring when we returned
from work in richer provinces, the season's
roster of disease, bereavement, loss. And all
her stars were ill, and all her ailments worth
detailing. We were young, and getting up
into the world; we feigned a gracious
interest when she spoke, but did
a slew of wicked imitations, out
of earshot. Finally her bitterness drove off
even such listeners as we, and one by one the winters nailed
more cold into her house, until the decade crippled her,
and she was dead. Her presence had been
tiresome, cheerless, negative, and there was little
range or generosity in anything she said. But now that I

have lost my certainty, and spent my spirit in a waste
of one romance, I think enumerations have their place,
descriptive of what keeps on keeping on. For dying's nothing
simple, single; and the records of the odd demises
(stone inside an organ, obstacles to brook,
a pump that stops, some cells that won't, the fevers making
mockeries of lust) are signatures of lively
interest: they presuppose
a life to lose. And if the love of life's
an art, and art is difficult, then we
were less than laymen at it (easy come
is all the layman knows). I mean that maybe
Laura Foley loved life more, who kept
so keen an eye on how it goes . . .


Heather McHugh, Hinge & Sign: Poems, 1968-1993, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.