Hurricane Zuihitsu

You’re dead when a doctor says you’re dead, said my cousin Jim, in one of his interviews, during his tenure as chairman of the American Academy of Neurology Ethics, Law and Humanities committee, while I am only here to muse

about when Ruthie asked her mom, Did Arne die before or after the Dalmatians? I kind of understood, how a three-year-old might confuse him missing right now from his chair, him sitting in the theater sharing popcorn, hissing Cruella de Ville;

about the photographs of Walter Schels; he shot each nearing-death person days, maybe just hours before, their eyes wide to the camera, usually a frown, a grimace, one with a a steady pale stare. In the after photos, their eyes are closed, each face in repose, agonies let go.

His face as he lay convulsing on the ground, a horror mask, contorting, as if screaming in silence.

When the paramedics quit, it was nothing like sleep. Something entirely missing from the body, warm burnish of skin waxed off.

But then a few days later

She could feel his presence as strongly through the room as if she had opened a furnace door.*

Not like that, exactly, but one evening, how do I explain it, something invisible around his desk, his still life of round wire-frame eyeglasses, between two hurricane lamps, in case the power went out.

Chum makes fun of me when I say the dunes are full of old air. By which I mean I feel the layers of life upon life that have wandered those hills of sand, and picked the prickly roses that grow wild, their pink and white petals open like faces.

During the Terry Schiavo case when lawyers argued whether or not she should be unplugged, I heard the NPR announcer introduce an expert neurologist, my cousin: his voice monotone, a bit brittle; as if encased.

I believe Byron: Between two worlds, life hovers like a star.

It was late at night, near Labor Day, not quite two weeks after, the stone cold against my hand, as I felt the curve of the tower, climbing its uneven stairs, and we came out at the top. He wrapped part of his coat around so we both stood under it and pointed west, pitch black but for the pale orange vapor lights that marked the bridge, and while we watched, a single shooting star leapt across the night:

Bliss across obsidian.

My teacher said I know it happened, but you can’t have a shooting star in the poem, it’s cliché. He said, Have the power go out instead.

Other names for shooting star: micrometeoroid, cosmic dust grain.

When it hits Earth’s atmosphere, friction causes the surface of dust to burn up. Another name for it is ablation,

which is what my brother had to stop his afib.

Two doctors in the ambulance took turns on Arne, there were three paramedics, several EMTs, everybody heard the call and showed up. It was better that way, having people who knew him, holding him.

The man holding the coat was Chum, but that was way before.




*line is from James Agee, A Death in the Family.


Click here to read Kathy Shorr on the origin of the poem.

Image: photo by Manny Becerra on Unsplash, licensed under CC 2.0.

Kathy Shorr:

I was introduced to the Japanese form of Zuihitsu by the poet Kimiko Hahn. I’ve always been allergic to form, but this seemed a way to corral my tendency to bring together a variety of ideas, images, lines of poems, news stories, etc., and try to make a poem out of them. (So many times the response I would get to my attempt was “This is actually 3 or 4 separate poems.”)

I found myself unexpectedly writing about the sudden death of my partner during Hurricane Bob, which happened more than 30 years ago. The story about Ruth and the Dalmatians was one of those things that made no sense at all but in some way made sense. And everything else here touched on the incomprehensible way that someone can exist and then suddenly not exist, and how confusing that is.

Kathy Shorr
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