Three Poems for Jon Marshall Greenberg (1956-1993)
Rummaging the Sacristy
So many candles — white fat columns,
red 7-day burners in tall glass jars
illuminating Christian martyrs, ornate
miniature picture frames sheathing
holy men; a rosary garden; a statue
of Laughing Buddha.
And here is Shiva — god of death
with four arms, moon hair, a third eye—
who drank a draught of poison from the sea
to save the world from harm.
The mirthful Buddha left no writings.
Shiva could not swallow
all the body fluids you drowned in.
I should never have read your journals.
Unconscious, he had a large following.
Three days he lay in the state called coma,
as dog-tired mourners passed in and out
of the room. He gestured towards heaven
and grabbed at his catheter while friends
came and went, eating Thai takeout
and chattering carelessly.
The woman who was soon to become
my ex-lover was solemnly watching our life
shatter around that hospital bed.
When his parents entered the room,
we had already finished the first
of several bottles of scotch, as he lay
in the state of the just-dead.
Angels and Pigeons
At first he heard angels
in the mornings when pigeons stirred,
purling and flapping in the air shaft.
Later there were two crypts.
He had a foot in each.
a waterborne protozoon
spread by rimming, a stolen pleasure,
and then, years of diarrhea.
A phrase that deserves repeating,
to sink in entirely—he suffered
profuse diarrhea for years.
The only salve
was soothing the voracious appetite
left in its wake.
Eating became a sacrament.
a fungus that breeds on offal
tossed on the street. Swallowed by pigeons,
released in droppings, mingled with dirt
that settles in air shafts, risen as fairy-dust
when wings flutter.
Inhaled fungus entered his lungs, surged
through bloodstream, settled in brain.
I’m losing this battle to pigeons, he said.
When the headaches came, the sign
was two fingers tapping aside his temple.
The symptom was projectile vomiting,
and later, seizures.
The remedy was dreadful. For months,
there were spinal taps every week.
Then one morning he said,
I haven’t heard angels all week.
Risa Denenberg is the author of Whirlwind @ Lesbos (Headmistress Press, 2016), In My Exam Room (The Lives You Touch Publications, 2014) and blinded by clouds (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2014) She is a nurse practitioner working in HIV/AIDS care and end-of-life care. Risa is a moderator at The Gazebo, an online poetry board; reviews poetry for the American Journal of Nursing; and is an editor at Headmistress Press, a publisher of lesbian poetry. She lives on the Olympic peninsula in Washington State.
These poems originally appeared in Mudlark Flash No. 11 (2001).