My sister Ellen had surgery early this year. Yesterday she sent me this poem, which I reproduce here without her permission.
After Surgery, January 94
In rose catalogs, hardy
Means the plant is likely to survive the winter
In a gentler climate
In those places roses need pruning
In summer to cut out
Diseased wood and in winter to remove
Excess growth, so next season's flowers will be bigger,
Or long-stemmed like these
Half dozen sent to me the day
After I came home,
Classic buds, six different colors
(only the yellow one fragrant).
None could have grown here in my garden where
Winter prunes the roses
Or kills them and in spring I kneel
Next each plant, searching
For branches spared, still inhabited
By some green waking spirit, and I cut away
Only what is proven dead.
I had a tooth pulled when I was six.
As the nurse clamped the ether mask over my face,
She said it would smell like roses.
Someone laughed, in that time long past, when
I woke and asked when the tooth would come out.
Still now, what I dreaded most was
That measureless dark.
The night before, I lay
Awake to savor the way the minutes
Pass one after the other, whole and holy
On the breath of God.
Naked and shivering under the thin gown,
I was wheeled into surgery.
When I asked, the doctor told me
People under anesthesia don't shiver.
The night after,
After that time of neither time
Again I feel no wish to sleep but only to lie
In the partial darkness
Rocking in the river of time
Washed in oxygen and nitrogen
And listen to the minutes pattering by just perceptibly;
I wonder if the rose bushes, naked
But not shivering under their skiff of snow, know
Even now the world is tilting back toward spring
While my body remembers
And remembers to breathe
And remembers again to breathe.