When his surgeon came to tell me, I was fussing
with a pillow, every move a whiplash of pain
and irritation. I felt my feet hanging
over the bed like two defeated fish, and thought:
This wasn’t made for a six-foot-two Nebraskan.
And could the room have been designed so that
a person recovering from major abdominal surgery
might turn the lights on and off without
getting gingerly in and out of bed? Certainly not.
Miserable with my tiny unmanageable miseries
when Dr. Oiege came in, sat down and said:
“I have some very bad news. George suffered
a massive cerebral hemorrhage. I’m afraid
there’s nothing we can do. He’s brain dead.”
* * *
They couldn’t control his blood,
they said, though my liver started
in his body. His brain
was swamped with blood,
though my liver started working.
Nothing could be done, they said.
After all we did, nothing could
be done. Because his brain
was swamped with blood.
Even with half a liver working
perfectly, nothing could be done,
and nothing can be done
now there is a bloody swamp
where consciousness had been.
* * *
Sleepless every night since the operation
I wandered the halls of the transplant ward,
pushing the coatrack-like contraption
that held my IV-drip, pain-med drip,
and three electrodes affixed to my chest
to track my untrustworthy heart.
My 3 a.m. walks became in time
a kind of walking meditation.
Nothing like major surgery
to keep you attentive to every step.
Of course my mind was still the darting
school of panicked minnows it had
always been. But once, as I came
to the end of the hall and looked out
the darkened window, I imagined
a sleepless monk somewhere
in the hills beyond the city
doing his own walking meditation,
making the same slow circles,
he around some pond or towering pagoda
and I around 30 or 40 wounded patients.
(In Japan an incision is a “wound.”)
I imagined us mirroring each other,
like brothers, or like subatomic particles
split apart, apparently separate,
but spinning in perfect symmetry
no matter the space between.
I wondered if he was looking up
toward the hospital windows wondering
if someone there was thinking of him
and of the suffering we couldn’t help but share.
And then I rounded the corner to begin
the long fluorescent journey
back to my room.
* * *
I wasn’t there but my brother told me
that after they cut him loose
from all the machines,
let his body go like a small boat
drifting from the shore,
as my brother and his wife
held vigil beside the bed,
the doctors and nurses
who had served and tried
to save him came into the room
and stood in stillness for over
an hour until it was over—
until the strong young heart
stopped. He had been brain dead
for ten days but still with us,
rocking gently on the surface.
And then they all rode
the elevator down together,
the same elevator
we had taken up so many times,
big enough for gurneys and wheelchairs
and huge anxious silences.
And when his body had been
placed inside the hearse
that waited to enter the flurried stream
of Marutamachi Street, they
bowed a long low bow, held it
until the car was gone.
* * *
I knelt beside his body the night before
we would consign it to the flames,
and read his journals, read his poems:
May my foot find your doorstep,
that is why I walk each day.
May my hand move with yours,
that is why I write.
May I come home to your knowing,
that is why I live.
How perfect and unlikely that death
should draw us together here in Kyoto,
where he’d come to teach and where
the poet we loved most, Saigyo,
lived and was cast out and wandered
these mountains in loneliness and rapture,
Saigyo, the warrior turned monk, who wrote:
Of blossoms finds himself in time
Intimate with them—
So, when they separate from the branch,
It’s he who falls…deeply into grief.
* * *
So strange to think
a piece of me is already
buried in the air,
or exists as ashes
in an urn
mixed with his ashes,
and that when I’m ready
to make the final turn,
the final wound
and leave this body,
part of me will be waiting there.