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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 2: March 2020
Poem: 753 words [R]
By Matt Bialer

Netherworld

 
       
I get a text
from an old dear friend
Met her 
in a high school arts summer program
Bennington College
Bennington, Vermont
Her husband
a renowned oncologist
breast cancer
MD Anderson
Houston
helped us innumerable times
Innumerable
It’s funny
I was going to text her
It’s about
her younger sister Christianne
whom I know also
Luisa writes
“I wanted to update you
on things
I spent last week
in hospital
staying with Christianne
Towards the end
of the week
she had
a series of seizures
Seizures
CAT scans
MRIs
confirm
to be brain metastasis
Doctors are
advising hospice care now
And Margaret and I
are addressing this
I’m coming back
this Thursday
Been beyond tough
as you well know
I am sorry
to spur
recent awful memories
but you’re
one person
who I know
understands
this shocking
traumatic
surreal experience”
Can I call you?
“Sure, I’d love
to hear your voice”
I call
Try to comfort her
as some sort 
of expert on death
Professor Death
Hospice in her apartment?
“No, too small
A hospital bed
squeezed
next to her grand piano
I don’t think so
She wants to go
to Margaret’s in DC
but I don’t know
The logistics”
(Margaret’s
the older sister)
Does she know
what is going on
“She’s on morphine
She goes
in and out
of consciousness”
I’m sorry
Luisa and Margaret
will be the only ones left
The only ones left
Their mother
recently passed
and she knows
I know
“I know you do”
Professor Death
We agree
to talk
in a few days
I write
thinking of you
She writes back
“Thank you
Wake me up
when this is over”
Wake me up
when this is over
Even when it’s over
it’s far from over
Far from it
I call her
Christianne was taken
in an ambulance
from Manhattan
to Bethesda Hospital
in Maryland
Margaret’s house 
in a beautiful large room
with plants
and flowers
“I will stay the duration”
How long is that?
“Doctors don’t know
She’s always amazed them
but it’s terminal”
Terminal
In and out of consciousness
Does she
make louder groaning sounds
when she sleeps?
“Sort of
Why?”
Professor Death
I didn’t know it
but the groaning got louder
as you approached
the end
The groaning got louder
otherworldly
like something
was possessing you
bestial
In and out
of consciousness
“Do you have
any advice for me?”
Pay attention
to what she does
“What do you mean?”
I didn’t really know
you were dying  
Didn’t really know
or didn’t want
to accept 
Five days away
from death
as you did a lot then
nodding off
on the couch in the living room
you started to sit up
You still could
on your own
with some help
You muttered
Rick Langbaum
I said what?
Huh?
You just said
Rick Langbaum’s name
I did?
You shook your head
like you were trying
to chase something 
out of it
Chase something out
I don’t know why
Rick Langbaum
your cousin
who died suddenly
eighteen years earlier
Pay attention
to what she does
Morphine
In and out
of consciousness
Luisa and Margaret
will be the only ones left
The only ones left
Professor Death
A few weeks
after you’re gone
I see Samantha
the daughter of Rick
We go for a walk
in Prospect Park
I tell her
about you muttering
her father’s name
“That’s odd
Wait
What day
did you say she said it?”
Wednesday
Five days before
Five days
“That’s the anniversary
of his death”
As much
as you loved your cousin
there’s no way
you would 
have remembered
the date
like your father’s death
your mother’s death
No way
Not consciously
“That’s really weird
Maybe they saw each other
in the Netherworld
I’m serious”
Netherworld
I’ve been reading
a lot about NDE
Near Death Experience
After 31 years together
trying to figure out
if you’re just terminated
and that’s that
Or is there
something more?
Something more
I read many accounts
Netherworld
unimaginatively beautiful land
of color
light
and music
Gorgeous
round-topped mountains
snowcapped
Foliage
of indescribable beauty
A shimmering lake
different kind of water
Everything clear
transparent
like watercolor
Golden
radiant
like it’s alive
Alive
Whole landscape
carpeted with grass
green 
vivid
Groves of large
lush trees
composed
of the same clear material
transparent
like watercolor
Netherworld
In and out
of consciousness
I describe it all
to Luisa
Netherworld
Wake me up
when this is over
Pay attention
to what she does
“She just sighed
and muttered
I can see Mommy”


—From Bialer’s ongoing series of elegies, this poem was composed in February 2020. Thirteen of the earlier poems are collected in Always Say Goodnight: Elegies for Lenora (KYSO Flash Press, March 2020). Goodnight is a tribute to his beloved late wife, Lenora Lapidus, who was Director of the Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU. Ms. Lapidus died on May fifth, 2019 after a long battle with cancer.

—Poem is reprinted with Bialer’s permission from Facebook, where he first posted it on 21 February 2020.

Publisher’s Note:

See also Eamon Grennan’s review here in MacQ-2, An Object of Wonder: Always Say Goodnight by Matt Bialer.

Matt Bialer
Issue 2, March 2020

is the author of more than a dozen books of poetry including Radius (Les Editions du Zaporogue); Already Here, Ark, and Black Powder (three from Black Coffee Press); Bridge, The Valley of the Eight, and Third Eye of the Inner Light (three from Leaky Boot Press); Tell Them What I Saw (PS Publishing, UK); Formation (Weirdo Magnet); He Walks On All Fours (Dynatox Ministries); and Ascent and Wonder Weavers (two from Bizarro Pulp Press). His poems have appeared in many print and online journals including Cultural Weekly, Forklift Ohio, Gobbet, Green Mountains Review, H_NGM_N and La Zaporogue.

In addition, Matt’s an acclaimed street photographer (primarily black-and-white) and an accomplished painter of watercolor landscapes who has exhibited his works widely. Some of his photographs are held in the permanent collections of The Brooklyn Museum, The Museum of the City of New York, and the The New York Public Library, and his watercolors reside in many private collections. His photographic monographs, A Moment’s Notice (with foreword by D. Foy) and More Than You Know, were published by Les Editions du Zaporogue in 2016 and 2011, respectively. The same publisher issued a book of his paintings in 2012, Shadowbrook.

Author’s website: www.mattbialer.com

 
 
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