William H. Matchett


You lie there now like a cave burial,
knees drawn up, all bones and leather hide,
while only yesterday you might have sat
with a begging bowl and your shaved head
along some path to a burning ghat.

A few weeks back you were "pleasingly plump,"
not to say fat, a mischief-loving
Laughing Buddha, a sensual saint
with the strength of a mastiff, living
and letting live with rare restraint.

All that fair flesh gone,
the innocent smile, the wicked grin,
dissolving into a restless sleep,
sharp hip and shrunken groin,
odds and ends too frail to keep.

You broached last week your delight
in Sondheim's songs, his skill
with lyrics, drew lines from A Little Night
Music from the hoard in that nodular skull
now draining away? shutting down? taking flight?

And yet you are here still.
Your eyes open suddenly straight into mine.
"Time and reality check," you say.
Reading my watch, I know you mean
more, need more, than hour and day.

You pain is insistent
as a siren, rising and falling,
weaving into elaborate dreams,
receding to a wakeful vast of feeling
without focus, flowing in tidal streams.

"Familiar faces keep me steady."
We hold our vigil around the clock.
Kate rubs your back, your poor sore butt,
the only sound the recurrent click
of the I.V. Her eyes, like yours, are shut.

She too is exhausted.
She too hangs on. A determined team
will see it through, this grinding war
of attrition. We all mark time.
"No one told me that death would be such a bore."

This is our chance to retrench--
eardrum shattered, retinal torn--
It's as dark as it's going to get.
The hands of the clock turn
But don't sing a nocturne / Just yet.

William Matchett, Airplants: Selected Poems, Antrim House, 2013.