sound pretty or peaceful. Hidden from view in this dream scene
is the su=ering, is the agony. Is the needle, and the morphine
pump, unavailable to the salmon, eyeless, its wordless mouth
opening and closing, body swaying in its tattered, whitening skin.
I DON’T BY ANY MEANS think constantly about dying. My reality
is dual: one foot firmly in the living stream, the other on the gory
bank. Life has become vivid and immediate these last months. No
years of Buddhist meditation got me to this place, just words on
the phone: the cells were malignant. Later that day, after the crying,
after the sitting mutely on the living room couch and staring out
the window, Craig and I hauled a quilt into the backyard and lay
down on the ground at the edge of the woods. We curled up, listening to wind in the birch leaves, the frenetic din of territorial birds,
staking their claims. Spring sprung on while we dozed o=. Staying
in the present moment isn’t di;cult when the alternative is dire:
useless imaginings of what might or might not come to pass.
Every morning when I wake, my mind darts down the dying-of-cancer path, and I reel it back by reminding myself of a poem
by the late Jane Kenyon, called “Otherwise.”
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
Kenyon died of cancer when she was about my age. She ends
the poem: But one day, I know, / it will be otherwise. Her words in
my mind, I talk myself home to the real. Right now, Eva, you are
here, listening to gulls shrieking on the beach. Right now, your
two legs, your two arms, your two lungs, your beating heart will
carry you, under your own power, up the salmon stream, into the
woods, where the blueberries are ripe. You will pick gallons to
freeze, a bulwark against winter’s want, against a dearth of hope.
Craig and I hiked up the creek to where a path led into the
forest, where blueberry bushes grew along the margins of bog.
It wasn’t a pleasant way to get there. The rocks were slick with
decay, the water rushing and tea-colored from weeks of rain.
The stink was thick as syrup around us, unrelenting. I stepped
around half-consumed corpses, curled and sloughing skin, over
eyeless heads, headless flanks, brainless skulls, pearly backbones