Dying by the Law
Dying by the Law (2015)
My father once dealt with contracts 100 pages long. At 91, the lawyer babbles at the wall.
From the ether a priestly voice whispers All life is sacred. Do not play God. My father collects his thoughts long enough to tell me, You people are useless. Can't you do anything?
I talk to the nurse, who tells me that my dad spent the morning entering the rooms of other patients and throwing around their clothing. When I enter his room, hot chocolate and cookie in hand, he's already been pacified by strong drugs.
He says he doesn't want anything and makes a face. He starts explaining a long, drawn-out scenario that I can't follow. He tells me to build the shelves on the wall to bring my brother and mother through the television. I go over to the wall and lean back and forth, while he counts out the levels of completed construction: Level one is finished. Level two is finished, etc., all the way to level eight. This seems to reassure him.
He asks about his wife, then talks to my brother floating somewhere in the air. Looking suspiciously to his left at the same wall, and in an ominous tone (and now sucking hard on the chocolate milk) he says, Beware that man over there. He then says something very uncharacteristic of him, something about having to stay here until the Lord decides it's time. Suddenly, he cries out, I'm sorry for everything I said back then. I love you all.
My father, the lawyer, at 91 babbles at the wall. He collects his thoughts long enough to tell me, So you people really can't do anything? I tell him, It's a matter of the Law. What I really mean is, It's what's the matter with the Law. He sits back, chocolate milk in hand, and falls asleep.
A nurse enters quietly, beckoning me out of the room, where my dad sits, unable to ponder the manner in which Science has outstripped Law.
Live by the Law, die by the Law.
Meanwhile, my father listens for the voice of the Black Angel, who is biding his time.
Confronted with a cup of espresso, he cannot articulate what it means.
Once a master of lexicography, now stuck for words.
The Italian styling might as well be the clay cup he made at school when he was six years old,
Or Keats' beaker full of the warm South / With beaded bubbles winking at the brim.
No matter which.
The following poem — "Dusk" — was written on July 7, 2015 on the balcony of the Hub restaurant, overlooking the Fraser River in New Westminster. My father was still alive, yet many of us, seeing his deep debilitation and incessant hallucinations, felt that his spirit had (to use a farm metaphor he might have once smiled at) already flown the coop.
I think of that little boy on the wood platform next to the water pump. I imagine him, an intrepid captain on his plank of wood, facing the seas of the afterlife. His own Charon, with a pail and a dog.
Or, he hops down from the plank and makes his way through the yard — across the bardo, the rivers Styx or Eunoe, whatever it might be — and opens the gate. I see him running around, dodging the free-range chickens, through pastures green as the summer grass.
Beneath the red square umbrellas I feel him slipping away,
like a beam of light from the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria,
across the strait to Vancouver
and from there over water and space, into space.
I don't know his trajectory.
Over the Fraser, hazy with summer heat,
I imagine his spirit alighting for a moment on the far bridge
(Zoroastrians would like this image)
and up the river toward the high mountains.
He stops for a split second on the peaks of the Port Mann Bridge.
The lights are a beacon of some sort, blinking above the river haze,
perhaps for some other sorts of planes
that fly through the Ether and the waves of Night.
I take a picture of the bridge with my iPhone, but I can't capture it
so I borrow some images from the Web.
I can't capture it — the white filaments against the white sky,
the blinking strobe lights
that pulse like the blood that runs, that ebbs,
that one day soon will no longer run through his veins.
May it blink forever in the eons of memory.
Post Scriptum, Postmortem, Agnosticum
(Written while standing about 150 yards from the green of the 7th hole, Northview Golf Club, Surrey BC, May 20, 2016)
Dad, you're the only one I know on the other side
who never professed to know what's on the other side.
So tell me now, if you can, what's there to see?
Are you mute as a block of uncarved stone
or is it just that you can't hear my question
standing at first base amid the chatter of the infield?
Either way, I slide the seven iron from the bag, and swing.
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