Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks

The Man With Stars Inside Him



Deep in this old man’s chest,
a shadow of pneumonia grows.
I watch Antonio shake
with a cough that traveled here
from the beginning of life.
As he pulls my hand to his lips
and kisses my hand,
Antonio tells me
for a man whose death
is gnawing at his spine,
pneumonia is a welcome friend,
a friend who reaches
deep between his ribs without a sound
and puff! a cloud begins to squeeze
so delicately
the great white image of his heart.

The shadow on his X-ray grows
each time Antonio moves,
each time a nurse
smoothes lotion on his back
or puts a fleece between his limbs.
Each time he takes a sip of ice
his moist cheek shakes with cough,
the shadow grows.

In that delicate shadow
is a cloud of gas
at the galaxy’s center,
a cloud of cold stunned nuclei
beginning to spin,
spinning and shooting
a hundred thousand embryos of stars.
I listen to Antonio’s chest
where stars crackle from the past,
and hear the boom
of blue giants, newly caught,
and the snap of white dwarfs
coughing, spinning.
The second time
Antonio kisses my hand
I feel his dusky lips
reach out from everywhere in space.
I look at the place
his body was,
and see inside, the stars.

Poet’s Commentary:

“This poem is about me really. It’s about a patient too and the moment–about a moment between us when the patient died.”

*Reproduced with permission of Jack Coulehan and with special permission of Nightshade Press: The Knitted Glove, 1991.

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