April is National Poetry Month, so we are offering a poem each Monday for the next four weeks. Today’s poem is from Rafael Campo’s latest book, Comfort Measures Only: New and Selected Poems, 1994-2016. Campo, a physician, writes from his work and life experience with great empathy. Martin Espada says, “The luminous language and the luminous vision offer proof that poetry, too, is a healing art, that storytelling is medicinal. In these times, we need poets of eloquent empathy more than ever, and there is no poet more eloquent or empathetic than Rafael Campo.”
As We Die
My parents gripe about their health. I think
about when I was young, and tried to force
from them an explanation of — what else
could it have been, but death? Back then, the ink
that clotted in my mother’s brush was black
as my ungrateful, doubting soul; my father’s
huge plush armchair, tilted slightly back, offered
what seemed eternal rest. Their talk is bleak,
their diverticulosis like a pit
that swallows them, their heart disease an ache
these old emotions only aggravate.
I guess I look to them as giants yet,
immortals who know secrets I cannot.
My father, hard of hearing now, reclines
a little farther back; her face now lined
with years of pain, my mother jabs at knots
of garish sunflowers, pretending we
might yet avoid the conversations that
have made their marks on us. Not what I thought —
past death, at last, dreams keep us perfectly.
Rafael Campo is the author of six books of poetry with Duke University Press. He is Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.