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Caught in Traffic

We’d strapped him to his bed for over a year,

Paid a fat, black woman to wear a white dress
Change his bedpan, and sit with him at night,
But when the bone white pigeon banked
Between the buildings in a pale twilight
The old man’s brain liquefied.

Foam, whose  bubbles reflected my face,
Bloomed on his lips as he swallowed his tongue.
It said 5:47 on the red crystal clock by the wet bar,
And his breath rattled in the room like some
Tired exhaust fan from the Roaring Twenties.

His wife was out shopping at Woolworths,
Or trying to sell something back to Cartiers.
The black nurse was downstairs flirting
With Desi the tap-dancing doorman.
Prince the chauffeur buffed the black Lincoln
And wondered what he’d do when the old lady died.
My wife was teasing our toddler in the living room.
Everyone else was trying to get home from work.

Somewhere inside his skull the skinned nerves
Kept sending signals down his spine to his heart.
And I blotted his lips in that burnt orange room
As his arms flapped like a beached fish before
The fisherman brings down the club.

I turned from the bed, pulled up the beige blinds,
And gazed out the window wondering
Where the bone white pigeon had gone.
Then I called the Doctor’s number listening
To his wheezing until the call was answered.

“He’s dying,” I said to the man I’d never met.
“You should send an ambulance and a team
Of medics right now. He’s going. Going fast.”

The calm voice answered from far across town,
“He’s home. He’s been dead for a year, you know.
We just change the sheets and pay the nurses.
I can keep his body going as long — as long —
As long as you want. You need to tell me.
Look outside. How heavy’s the crosstown traffic?”

I looked down on a solid ribbon of slow oozing steel.
“Wedged,” I said. “Hardly moving at all.”

“Look at his eyes,” the voice said. I looked
Down into his eyes and they had no bottom.
“Who’s there?” the voice asked on the phone.

“No one I know,” I said. “No one at all.”
I held the phone and waited, looking out over Central Park.

“I’ll send an ambulance when you tell me,” he said.

The bone white pigeon came sweeping out of the light
And settled on the sill as calm as my breath in the room.

“Send them when you can,” I said. “No rush.
They’ll just get caught in traffic.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • The Honking Intensifies February 5, 2022, 8:36 PM

    Poetry, culture, morale maintenance, are all constructs of the white male capitalist patriarchy.
    Caring for elders and children is wrongthink as the nuclear family must be disrupted by any means necessary.

  • gwbnyc February 5, 2022, 11:13 PM


    When fifteen or so at a friend’s house, they rather adopted me, I was sitting at the kitchen table with his father and and a cousin, a middleaged woman. Her uncle, the topic of conversation, was in the hospital. She remarked she should call and check on his condition and so got up from the table and went to the phone in another room. On returning she said to my friend’s father, “Richard, they say he’s critical, we should go to the hospital right now.” He replied, “Might as well finish our coffee first. Relax, if they said he’s critical he’s already gone.”

  • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 2:22 AM

    Part of the hospital ward at Webb AFB was for those ancients dying from emphysema or cirrhosis or cancer or some other damned man-killer. Sometimes the dying were on that ward for a month or more. The corpsman on duty had to check in on them several times an hour for vital signs. When they passed, they all went quietly, as if having no desire to make a fuss. The foam of their lips as they prepared to leave this earth was always tainted red.

    At a dinner party on March 14, 44 BC Caesar was asked what kind of death he wanted. “A quick one.” was his answer. He got his wish. I want the same. I’ve seen slow ones.

    • John Venlet February 6, 2022, 6:05 AM

      A quick death is something to be desired, Mike. A quick death which rather amazed me was my former father-in-law’s. He lived in an assisted living facility. He was awakened on his last morning by staff, at 6 a.m., who asked him if he wanted to come to breakfast. He replied he was going to come to breakfast, and the staff member then left the room while he got out of bed and and began getting dressed. When the staff member returned to the room, at 6:45 a.m., there he sat in his easy chair. Shaved, hair combed, and dressed. He was dead. To this day I cannot think of a finer way to go.

  • nunnya bidnez, jr February 6, 2022, 6:26 AM

    Sooner or later, everybody dies.
    Not everybody-all-at-the-same-time.
    so far.

    • gwbnyc February 6, 2022, 6:40 AM

      the inevitability would indicate otherwise, but we so rarely encounter a dead person.

      or a dead, dropped in its tracks anything.

  • H (science denier) February 6, 2022, 6:34 AM

    “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.” Satchel Paige.

  • jwm February 6, 2022, 6:45 AM

    I remember the telephone ringing in the morning. I almost didn’t answer, but when I picked it up, it was my Dad.
    “John. I think I’m having a heart attack.”
    “Did you call 911?”
    “Call them right now. Or hang up. I’ll call them from here.”
    I called 911, and drove over there to my Dad’s house. When I got there the paramedics were wheeling him out on a gurney. He looked at me, and waved, and the ambulance drove off, code three. I went to get some breakfast before heading over to the hospital. I figured he’d be OK. When I got to the hospital, they pulled me into a little conference room. Dad didn’t even make it to the hospital.
    Despite the shock of the moment I recognized that he got out easy. Too soon, but easy. I hope for the same.


  • Bill in Tennessee February 6, 2022, 6:53 AM

    There are many things worse than death, especially if you know that death is not the end. Among those things are living one’s life as a coward, serving meekly on one’s knees rather than fighting on two feet, knowing that when one had a chance to do the right thing they failed, a lifetime of regret, and a prolonged time on one’s deathbed. I saw my father waste away over several years due to emphysema and saw the corrosive effect it had on the family. I hope the Lord takes me quickly when it’s my time, rather than fade away slowly until I no longer recognize my loved ones.

    • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 8:04 AM

      Your wish is also my wish: to go quickly. For when God calls me home, there is no point in wanting to hang around a bit longer. Life is beautiful, death is not forever, and to see the face of Christ is the finest summation of a worldly life well spent.

      To live as a coward is to be dead already. That sort of man should dig his own grave and lay in it.

      • JACK February 6, 2022, 10:30 AM

        Your comment caused me to immediately think of what experience awaits morally and spiritually bankrupt progressive and cowardly politicians, entertainers, liberals and socialists of any stripe whose desire in life is social, political and economic power, of any measure. I expect that the Lord Jesus will do as He said He will and tell them that they have had their reward.

        I cannot imagine the despair that would result from that kind of declaration for the Lord of the Universe.

        • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 4:32 PM

          I have often wondered about that very thing. Do those repellent creatures who rule over us and who entertain us ever give any thought to what comes after their lives here are done? I have not been able to come up with any definite answer. Some of course belong wholly to Lucifer: Hillary, Obama, Pelosi, Biden and their acolytes. In their heart of hearts, in the dark of night, they know it. Most of these beasts just don’t believe there is anything after death, and so they are “gettin’ while the gettin’ is good.” At times I would bet that they hope that there is neither Heaven nor Hell. There is no point in trying to explain the true facts of the universe to them. They will either laugh, become angry or, if they can, put us to death.

          All such will be judged just like everyone else. For some it means Joy and, like Lazarus, they will rest in the bosom of Abraham. For the rest it means something else. Jesus meant what He said.

  • Mike Seyle February 6, 2022, 7:08 AM

    Apologies if I’ve written this before, but it sticks with me as I get older still. My mother said, after taking care of her mother-in-law for a long time, “She doesn’t have the grace to die.” At the time, I thought that was harsh, but reconsidered the wisdom of it when I took care of mom and dad for 10 years.

    • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 7:28 AM

      There can indeed be a kind of grace involved in dying. I do not want to burden anyone with a long death, one of slowly wasting away, losing first one faculty then another, and finally dying while laying in my own shit and urine. I decided long ago that if cancer or some other wasting illness claims me, that there will be no chemo, no radiation and no surgery. I will ask my doctor only for loads of morphine for when the pain becomes beyond what I can tolerate without going mad. And then just wait for God to do what He does best. And not to dally too much.

      Centuries ago there was a Spanish nobleman. He was a famous warrior and gentleman. Finally in old age an arrow had found him on the field of battle. As he lay on the ground with blood rushing from his body, his men gathered around him in mourning. He told them, “Gentlemen, leave me be. I have known how to live for 70 years. I certainly know how to die for 15 minutes.”

    • gwbnyc February 6, 2022, 7:30 AM

      This I will remember.

  • Annie Rose February 6, 2022, 7:15 AM

    On a beautiful October day in 1987 we got a call in the afternoon to hurry to the hospital, as my FIL was fading fast and wanted to see us. My husband was 29, too young to lose his dad. We had been early Christmas shopping. My husband, being on the fire department, had a pager. His fire department family had been contacted to page us. I had just seen my FIL that morning, as I had had a conference at the hospital. A nurse acquaintance I bumped into who worked on the cardiac floor had pointedly grabbed my arm and said that it was “good” that I was popping in to see him. I had no clue what she was quietly trying to tell me. He was in good spirits, but had a sadness in his eyes. We had a long and deep conversation about life. He was dying of congestive heart failure and had been in and out of the hospital numerous times the past two years. We had been told that he was on the mend and was supposed to come home in a few days. My husband and I rushed to his room and made it just in time to say good bye. My FIL had been hanging on, waiting for us. The nurse commented that he should have been unconscious due to his body shutting down. But the human spirit is strong. While it was painful to watch his body fail and die, I’m so very grateful for that beautiful, final conversation and a chance to tell him how much he was loved. Why did he suddenly take a turn? His callous cardiac doctor had visited that morning and told him that despite what she had told him about going home, that in fact, his heart was shutting down and he would be dead within a day. We only found this out later from the nurse, as the doctor never shared this with my MIL. Dr. Death, as we called her later, had waltzed into his room as cool as a cucumber and given him his death sentence and then left. She broke his gentle spirit. The nurse told us that he simply gave up after the doctor left and started to go down hill.

    Six years ago this coming March, my own dad passed away, all alone, because he too was on the mend and scheduled to go to skilled nursing and then home, but after surviving pneumonia, caught a fast acting, deadly hospital infection that he couldn’t survive. I would have so liked to have been by his side those last hours to comfort him, but lived several states away. My flight was scheduled for the next day, because he had wanted me to wait to come down so I could help my mom out while he recovered. My mom didn’t really want to see him and had barely visited him at the hospital. I called her to tell her to hurry if she wanted to say goodbye. She then took an hour to dress and put her make up on, before calling a taxi. She spent all of 5 minutes with him. He knew she was there and squeezed her hand as he slowly suffocated. She left him all alone to die, because she was tired and “he didn’t really know that she was there”. Selfish as she had always been. He died five hours later. My one Comfort was that my dad and I did have a wonderful conversation about life two days before he died, saying those things that we all want to say before we say final goodbyes and reminiscing about the good times.

    Slow deaths or fast deaths, they are all painful in their own way and never easy. My own mom complained that her own death was “taking too damn long”! It took her 3 weeks to die. She also died without me by her side, due to Covid restrictions at her facility, which in a way was poetic justice considering how she treated my dad. I like to think that God was watching over me and protecting me from her final, harsh words.

    • Richard February 6, 2022, 9:02 AM

      Why did he suddenly take a turn? His callous cardiac doctor had visited that morning and told him that despite what she had told him about going home, that in fact, his heart was shutting down and he would be dead within a day. ****

      Unbelievably cruel and sadistic. I avoid medicos as much as I can. Too many of these people are little more than well-trained technicians. Little to no empathy. Were it not for the money they can accrue, they wouldn’t be in their line of work at all. Old joke:
      Q: Do you know the difference between God and a doctor?
      A: God doesn’t consider Himself to be a doctor.

      • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 10:06 AM

        Number of non-suicidal deaths in the US caused by guns: 12,000. (2018)

        Number of physician-caused (iatrogenic) deaths in the US: 250,000. (2019)

        Doctors may not be God, but they sure send a lot of Americans to Him.

        • Richard February 6, 2022, 10:24 AM

          So true, Mike. The following is the first result – of many – doing a quick Duck Duck Go search. I’ve never understood the “doctor-worship”, in this country.

          • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 11:12 AM

            Richard, even I was shocked at the number of Americans killed by doctors. My advice: Stay out of hospitals at all costs. Doctors bury their mistakes. If at all possible I will die in the bed in which I sleep every night.

            • Terry February 6, 2022, 4:23 PM

              “Stay out of hospitals at all costs.” I agree 100%.

              Attending a political rally I had the following experience this past summer:

              I was sitting next to a woman a bit older than myself (I am 76) and she told me a story about her son in law that enraged me to the boiling point. This man complained of symptoms of a cold at a clinic. He was forced into a hospital against his will, placed on a ventilator and murdered. The woman described all the details to me. Boise, Idaho hospital on survival mode of going broke until Covid saved them. The Doctor and all nurses who attended to this man were in on the crime. NAZI Germany in repeat mode.

              • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 4:46 PM

                I have heard many similar stories—so many that there must be an immediate payout to the hospitals and to the ghouls who work in them. Money covers a lot of crimes—for awhile. We may call this a modern “Murder, Inc.” Albert Anastasia would feel right at home. So would old Joe Mengele. We have reached a level of depravity that would have shamed the Ancient Greeks.

                What we have here is the American government paying “caretakers” to put to death American citizens. Just curious: How much is paid out for each corpse? Do the hospitals then sell selected body parts like they do to those of aborted children?

                My first response—my only response—is to treat these hired killers as the Hebrews of old treated the Amalekites. Call me Santa: I’m making a list and checking it twice.

    • ghostsniper February 6, 2022, 10:00 AM

      Jeez, that mother was cold. I hope she inherited nothing.

  • James ONeil February 6, 2022, 11:02 AM

    Not gonna speak for or preach to anybody else but rather oddly, compared to many folks I’ve known over the years, the closer I get to my end the less I’m fearful of it.

    Nope, wouldn’t want to continue this for ever. If I had my drutthers, yep, I’d want my termination painless.

    Yep, of course I’d like painless, maybe quick, but ain’t my choice as I’m not suicidal.

    All things considered, within and beyond my control, figure I’ll just keep on truckin’, ain’t gonna give up living to keep from dying, I quite enjoy the now, plan and prepare for tomorrow, but when tomorrow doesn’t come, don’t make no nevermind.

    Just me, again not talking for or preaching to you.

    • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 11:29 AM

      I can’t remember when—if—I was ever afraid of death. I don’t really know why. During my pagan years in the wilderness (1967 – 1989) as far as I know I never thought of death. Once I returned to the One True Faith I came to understand what earthly death entailed. There was no fear, but rather joy—and relief. I have encountered old Grim Reaper several times, but he was never able to carry me off. His claim to my life is a very ephemeral thing, and is nothing compared to Christ’s claim on it.

  • Anne February 6, 2022, 11:37 AM

    My ex-husband was never a bad person. A young man destroyed by a peadophile he tried to live a normal, decent life. He failed several marriages–but never in his job. He always stayed in touch with his first daughter and in later years with me. He had acquired skin cancer and because of his work was many times out of country so that it was difficult for the “old” VA system to keep up with him. He came to us in 2007 with an open hole in his chest. I took him to the big fancy hospital in Kirkland where they let him sit for 2 hours before telling him that because his cancer was so far advanced there was nothing they would do. By that time he was taking one large bottle of Tylenol a day trying to kill the pain. He left town without saying good bye and the next thing I knew it was 2009 and he had called our daughter saying that he was driving from the midwest to the VA Hospital in Spokane. Along the way he picked up a drug addicted hooker at one of the truck stops so that she could do the driving because he didn’t want to cause an accident. When we got to the VA he had spent a few days in the hospital, but felt well enough to go out for Mexican lunch. Truck stop gal was being fed 3 meals and slept in his room. He NEVER SAW A DOCTOR. The floor nurse told him he was dying and that he had been committed to Hospice (without his consent). When I saw him he was sitting up in bed and begged me to tell them he still wanted to fight. Death nurse told me “no–that’s not an option.” So much for . . .

    • Anne February 6, 2022, 11:47 AM

      Excuse me. I tried to repair the original comment but was unable to figure how to do that!

      I wanted to add that I had a very strong sense that this “feminist” nurse was enjoying her power. It was after all in WA state.

      • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 11:55 AM

        She reveled in what she believed was her power of life and death. The reality is that she had no power at all over such things. I hope she learns this before she meets the One who actually does have that power.

    • Mike Austin February 6, 2022, 11:51 AM

      The “medical care” your ex-husband received was worse than what he would have received under the Greek doctor Hippocrates (460 BC – 370 BC).

  • Richard G. February 6, 2022, 11:45 AM

    I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
    Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling
    high up in heaven,
    And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit
    I understood then
    That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-
    Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
    I could see the naked red head between the great wings
    Bear downward staring. I said, ‘My dear bird, we are wasting time
    These old bones will still work; they are not for you.’ But how
    he looked, gliding down
    On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the
    over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
    That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak
    become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes–
    What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment; what a life
    after death.
    Robinson Jeffers, Vulture

    • Richard G. February 6, 2022, 11:52 AM

      I have felt the flutter
      of the wings
      of the Angel of death
      Caress me many times in my life.
      So far the clutching claws
      have missed their mark.
      Each day is a gift.

  • RedBeard February 6, 2022, 11:45 AM

    As death is inevitable to us all, I see no reason to fear it- just avoid it and postpone it as much as we can.

    Most people I’ve conversed with about death seem to share a common preference- that they want to pass away in their sleep, peacefully. Personally, I’d rather be wide awake and experience it with all of my senses, since it’s something we only get to do once.
    Can you even imagine what it will be like- transitioning from one world into the next? Stepping through the exit door of all we know of and have experienced, then into an eternal realm of things we cannot even remotely conceive? Mind boggling stuff.

    Years ago I read a poll that was on some website I can’t currently recall- asking people how they’d like to die. Most said in the arms of a loved one, in their sleep, peacefully at home, surrounded by family, or while doing something they always loved to do- like riding their motorcycle, skydiving, etc.

    Two of the best replies–
    “I want to go peacefully and in my sleep just like my uncle Bob, instead of screaming and crying like all the passengers on the bus he was driving.”
    Hilarious, but not really sincere.

    “I want to die while saving the life of another human being.”
    Awesome, I can’t top that one.

  • jd February 6, 2022, 2:18 PM

    Interesting comments. I even watched the videos but
    it’s your poem that lives on.

  • Nori February 6, 2022, 4:07 PM

    I want to go out like Wile E. Coyote. Whether he’s been flattened by a 500 lb boulder,or Acme rocketed smack into a cliff face,or eaten birdseed laced with earthquake pellets,he always springs back to life.