Prognosis: the Bearable Lightness of Being
When the doctor told me I had a few months to live—six
At the most—I thanked him because that was how
I was brought up—to thank people when they tell you
Something of import. He didn’t say “You’re welcome”
But didn’t look away either, his face trying not to be
A mask of dispassion but not trying to fall into too easy
Compassion—dis and com, a rock and a soft place.
And when I started to get up, my hands gripped the metal arms
Of the chair too hard, more as though as I was trying to raise
Myself up in some callisthenic thrust than push
The chair back from the doctor’s huge, cherry wood desk,
Forgetting how intention had come to mock me.
I began, without apology, to collapse, arms weak,
Hands softening like the sick person I was,
Seeming to melt
Realizing I was melting, seeming becoming
History, the ghost of an avaricious ghost.
Not so bad, though—
I get to taste what is occurring now, get to tear up
Or annotate time’s on-going recipe—mix
One education with one socio-economic imbroglio with one
Gender with one initial religious fix. Stir. Call it fate.
No more of that cozy me that is free to loll
In its determined armchair and look toward a continued horizon.
The doctor was pondering whether he should
Get up and assist me, though the furrows on his forehead showed
He was not sure how, I looked like jelly, a muscular mess
Deliquescing before him and I felt how he wanted to say,
“Shit, this is no good,” a sentiment I agreed with
And to which I beat him burbling, “Shit, this is no good,”
Which led him to almost smile, suppress it but then almost
Smile again but suppress it again so it seemed he was having some
Facial attack or memory of the medical conference on Maui
Where he bedded a lovely anesthesiologist.
I croaked to him and began to hitch myself up out of the chair
Where I didn’t want to spend the rest of my short life
Though where I was headed I couldn’t say,
The doctor bellowing toward the closed door behind me,
Jerry Lee Lewis at Nuremberg
In unreal time, as when a head dices up decades
Centuries and millennia
While slowly sluicing into the nether bog of sleep,
Jerry Lee Lewis, also titled “The Killer,”
For among other things, his pianistic prowess,
Appears at Nuremberg in a stiff, wide-lapel suit
He could have bought at Lansky’s in Memphis
If he was from Memphis but he wasn’t,
Standing there with that too-cool hairdo
To confront the modest panoply of Nazis who
Are standing in for many Nazis
Who are there to take the rap and glad in their
To do that because it was no evil to do what they did,
It was a service to the Aryan race to cleanse the earth
Of scum which by implication included musicians
Humping pianos and thirteen-year-olds
And braying like country-western-boogie-woogie banshees
About which Jerry Lee has no intention of apologizing
Because he understands this isn’t about ideas
It’s about not being human and enjoying not being human
It’s inhuman and that’s the last thing that’s on Jerry Lee’s mind,
Which always has a naked woman and a right hand going
Crazy on a keyboard in it, which is what a mind should hold,
So that when Göring starts in with his witty repartee
Jerry Lee says, “You are one sad motherfucker”
And the world, for once, gets what it is to be American
And unafraid of what anyone thinks, especially some
Nazi slime ball who believes he’s better than anyone else
Because he’s from Europe and has a lot of unhappy history
Up his hateful asshole that got made into more history that
People like my uncle Nathan paid for with his life
On the beach at Anzio, his precious blood vanishing
Into the grievous sands of oblivion.
Jerry Lee doesn’t care what Göring says back.
Instead he waggles his eyes around the courtroom.
No chicks or pianos.
Being serious is fucking boring.
Being serious has killed a lot more people than not being serious.
The dream ends here.
In Hollywood time, Spencer Tracy is talking about
“The real complaining party in this courtroom,” which is “civilization.”
Everyone nods at this large last word.
It sounds good like maybe you could use it in a song,
Each syllable taut yet sibilant in its brief articulate leap,
Though it doesn’t rhyme with much,
Though it feels like some wish, something badly out of touch.
To scoop up a scrap of feeling
That falls from the gusty October sky
A raw little thing like a bare hatchling
Or fresh blood stain
The air thick with ocher and violet
As if an abstract expressionist
Had taken hold of a cloud and soaked it
Till it bled ghost tears
Then brayed with crafty giddiness
At art’s prodigal counter-punch
A bray the cars take up out of impatience
For they must be elsewhere and soon
And this moment
Is only a mental tunnel
More failed history
Though when a woman turns
Her head sideways and sees one
Of those slim trees the city plants
Clinging to a few last leaves
As if they were dignity itself
It’s hard not to squirm with admiration,
Lift weary hands off the wheel
And yell to the stooped goggle-eyed guy
On the sidewalk leaning to catch something,
“Don’t pocket it. Let it grow.”
The guy looks up, big incredulous eyes,
Big ears too and like
The Wandering Jew he softly groans.
Baron Wormser is the author/co-author of twelve full-length books and a poetry chapbook. Wormser has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. His most recent book is Impenitent Notes (CavanKerry Press, 2011). He teaches in the Fairfield University MFA Program.