Another Lugubrious Poem

He came to us in a cab after escaping from Mass. Gen.
against medical advice. They attempted to relocate him
into nursing home where he knew he would die
but I guess he wasn’t quite ready to go.
So still too weak to stand he ensconced
himself prone on a mat in the Green Lobby
and we wheeled him outside for an occasional cigarette
or to the bathroom to do his business.

After a few days of this routine he actually got his legs back and
the Summer sun and the social interaction seemed to be a tonic
of sorts and the aching agony and particular pains of his needle like limbs
and bare ribbed torso wanted to be touched and soothed again.

I remembered him from the old days and he was always tiny
with the littlest face and smallest hands but now as he unbuttoned
his shirt I saw the devastated body of an old man and the big blue black
blotches of his carcinomas were waiting for the cream on my hands
to caress the flaking ash brown of his skin.

“You have the healing hands, you know” he said “You should be a doctor,
you know, I wish you were my doctor. Am I going to die?” Which I couldn’t tell
no matter how clear the evidence coming up through his body to my fingers.
I found myself feeling in dreamtime the fear that everyone else has of the dis-ease:
that it will infect anyone and everyone. But how could I stop when I looked
into the deep holes of terror in his eyes. “You need to go to the hospice.
They’ll take care of you there. They’ll know what to do. This place with the refuse
and the coughing is not the right place for you.” “I know” he said “I know”.

He left a few days later. The nurses in the clinic had done a heroic job placing him
and taking him for a visit and then we heard he died a few weeks later.
I wondered what happened to his body that had once been so lively and pretty.
Was there anyone to claim it now that it was an emaciated ruin of a youth
that would never reach the full maturity of adulthood? The poor Little Jo,
the poor little Jo how could you have
known the streets so deadly?
How could you have known life so brief and difficult?
How could I have known you’d end up dying like that?


James Van Looy has been a fixture in Boston’s poetry venues since the 1970s. He is a member of Cosmic Spelunker Theater and has run poetry workshops for Boston area homeless people at Pine Street Inn and St. Francis House since 1992. Van Looy leads the Labyrinth Creative Movement Workshop, which his Labyrinth titled poems are based on. His work appears weekly in Oddball Magazine.