I can bless a death this human, this leaf the size of my hand. From the life-line spreads a sapped, distended jaundice toward the edges, still green. I've seen the sick starve out beyond the grip of their disease. They sleep for days, their stomachs gone, the bones in their hands seeming to rise to the hour that will receive them. Sometimes on their last evening, they sit up and ask for food, their faces bloodless, almost golden, they inquire about the future. * One August I drove the back roads, the dust wheeling behind me. I wandered through the ruins of sharecrop farms and saw the weeds in the sun frames opening the floorboards. Once behind what must have been an outhouse the way wild yellow roses bunched and climbed the sweaty walls, I found a pile of letters, fire-scarred, urinous. All afternoon the sun brought the field to me. The insects hushed as I approached. I read how the world had failed who ever lived behind the page, behind the misquoted Bible verses, that awkward backhand trying to explain deliverance. * The morning Keats left Guys Hospital's cadaver rooms for the last time, he said he was afraid. This was the future, this corning down a stairway under the elms' summer green, passing the barber shops along the avenue that still performed the surgeries, still dumped blood caught in sand from porcelain washtubs into the road-side sewer. From those windows, from a distance, he could have been anyone taking in the trees, mistaking the muse for this new warmth around his heart—the first symptom of his illness—that so swelled the look of things, it made leaves into poems, though he'd write later he had not grieved, not loved enough to claim them.
From Vesper Sparrows by Deborah Digges (Antheneum, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved.