We were worried—at sixty-two
the business may have been too much
for him—the nausea, the bloated tiredness,
the loss of appetite, the episodic cramps
around the lower abdomen.
Dressed in his impeccable brown suit
and slim with West Virginia jokes,
always talking of better buys,
decorating the living room, the loft,
he bantered through the social afternoons
with habitual unconcern.
Did we imagine a glint of apprehension
in those hazel eyes, the mourning
of a marriage three years gone,
the traces of obsessive jealousies,
the ceaseless seeking after women
(always younger, always newly minted
in their fleshly joys)?
A spastic colon, said the doctors,
malabsorption somewhere in the liver's lobe,
enzyme deficiency, who knows?
Maybe a parasite or two,
the ulceration of intestine walls.
That sent us to the symptoms book,
the columns methodically arranged—
“Diagnostic Measures,” “Complications,”
“Outcomes, Probabilities,” and
the “How to Treat” section, in particular.
It all seemed reassuring in its clarity
of print, the rubrics neatly formatted,
the diet noted—increased fiber,
decreased stress—and most especially
the medication column:
antispasmodics to relieve the cramps,
a tranquilizer to reduce anxiety.
One note intrigued us.
“See Appendix 25,” it said.
The print was smaller here,
the paragraphs less organized,
the bullets squeezed.
We read about the impossibility
of separating the body from the mind,
something about the spirit
was there too, about researchers
unable yet to understand
these links, themselves as yet
And then some brief advice,
almost obscure in its simplicity—
help from family, from friends,
pleasure in work,
humor whenever possible.
Define your conflicts, said the paragraph.
Seek equanimity, be moderate.