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Two Years Ago, Crawling Up The Other Bank

April 14, 2022

COVID Sequence

I. From My Hospital Bed

for when I am weak, then I am strong. St. Paul (2 Cor 12:1-10)

So I’ve wandered this far into the breath-

taking woods, nothing but darkness ahead,

nothing behind except what I think

I remember. Or perhaps made up. I don’t

know. Also, I don’t know how I know

but I know now there is no path out

of this infinite forest nor why I am

certain there is a fallen tree trunk

up ahead that I will come upon and

sit down, lean over and, pressing my bare

forearms onto my weary thighs, gaze out

through the inscrutable thicket: branches,

leaves, choking vines, waiting for whatever

comes next: animal, rain, morning, hunger,

faith, love, the hunger of love, the everything

and nothing that arrives when prayers

are but childhood wishes, when we know

in our scarred and perfect souls

that what is sacred is profane, profane

sacred, that there is merciful strength

in closing our eyes and welcoming

this illness

of being human

with an unknowing smile.

--SL, Port Royal, SC, May 2020

II. Through My Hospital Window

Ten inches. That is my view of the outside world, the ten inch

space between the bottom of the window shade and the sill…

--Neil Selinger, 1953-2011

i. March 2011

My dear friend Neil, being buried alive in his fading body, wrote

with breathtaking bravery and grace during his last year of life

through computer-trained retinas about an ever-diminishing world,

every morning a ten-inch gap he’d see through the bedroom

window, eyes peering down past his feet, unable to move a toe

until the nurse would come to wash and turn and dress him.

ii. March 2020

I think of Neil now, trapped in my own mechanical hospital bed,

IV drips in my arm, oxygen canula up my nose, intermittent pneumatic

compression cuffs on my legs, a kind but unrecognizable nurse in a mask,

gown, and gloves turning me one way then the other so she can change

the sheets, then giving me unidentified pills, which I swallow obediently

like a hapless child or a dispirited rheumy-eyed old man, agreeing

without protest to anything I’m offered: jello, Mucinex, thermometer,

dry chicken, the daily shot in my stomach.

iii. April 2020

While I was on my back in the hospital bed, time seemed to pass or

not pass as in a dream or a hallucination; and even weeks later

as I lay at home in a weary convalescent isolation I hardly remember now,

I recalled peering vacantly out the hospital window when Neil appeared,

sat down beside me, not to offer the usual clichéd consolations, only

to share the narrow view, the private and solitary darkness illuminated for both

of us by the ten inches he once described so unforgettably with his eyes alone.

Maybe I imagined it. Perhaps it was a dream. It’s even possible I conjured

it up through this hazy recollection in poetry, but as we watched cars slowly

passing on Ribaud Road, Spanish moss swaying languidly from the live oaks,

I know I took one shallow inspiration after another after another, chest rising,

falling, each drawn from the sweet breath of his long-silenced voice.

--SL, Port Royal, SC, May 2020

III. Crawling Up The Bank

Something lifts our wings ….


When speaking of birth and death

and the everything in between,

the doleful beginnings, the middle,

the ends of these harrowing days,

there are only three elements:

the female, the male, the holy other,

each one beholden to, flowing

through, the other two, what

the early mystics must have known

in their hearts but misunderstood

its eternal embrace, leaving out

women in their narrow, selfish

view of the immemorial triptych

of the planet: earth, water, the wind

that dear-dear-dear Emily whispered

through her own trinity: First – Chill –

then Stupor – then the letting go –

and so here I find myself in this poem,

still seeking blessed air, each breath

a gift for the aching lungs, the tender

heart, oxygen for rivers of blood

flowing through these arteries,

each exhale a grateful surrender

to the everything, the sum, the all

I misunderstood, I seem to almost

understand now, yet still

have no earthly idea why

I did not drown in the roiling

waters. Maybe it just doesn’t matter.

As my dear friend Larry told me,

“Where you stepped in the river

is not across from where

you are crawling up the bank.”

--SL, Port Royal, SC, May 2020

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