Yesterday was the first day of Jennifer’s second war on leukemia.
I asked her what I could do to help while she sits in that awful place
getting herself pickled on chemo, and she said,
“Write about how Jesus made space inside of incarnation
to weep for a man he was going to raise from the dead.”
I want you to know that I tried to do that,
but all I could do was rock back and forth between anger and fear,
because there she is, Han Solo stuck in oncology carbonite
with droids running sugar maple sap through her veins.
Strangers who explore this planet for a living
are making their rounds to her room
and I tried to make mine,
but that first glance in the door was like touching a hot stove.
Still I love her enough to push my hand down on the burner
instead of pulling it back.
My Carhartt overalls are hanging in my closet,
but I can’t look at them today,
because Jennifer should be wearing hers, tromping through some field,
putting her face up against the hot muzzle of a horse
where dragon nostrils pump steam in defiance of winter
and ice flicks her cheeks neon pink.
It froze hard last night so the ground crunches grass and clay,
and the wind today is strong enough to
flip her hat back and run its woman fingers through her hair,
hair that’s just now grown back,
and I’m a snotty mess thinking that over.
My poetry and my platitudes can’t tame a God
whose love won’t be subjected to bit and bridle,
but she already knows that
I can’t tell what breed I am yet except nauseated,
stewing in whatever chemical reaction it is
that turns helplessness to vertigo down in your gut.
I want to throw up the nothing I have to offer.
Everything sad is coming untrue,
I believe that. I do believe it.
I believe there are brave and beautiful things to say,
sweet songs to sing and stories to tell,
but first I have to hate cancer.
I have to throw myself on the bed and sob
and pound my fist in my pillow and yell.
I have to hate what it steals, hate what it demands,
hate that it gets so savage and so personal.
And no matter what I believe,
what I want right now is to yank up in front of that hospital
with Al Capone’s cadillac and a bottle of Woodford Double Oak,
and shout up, “Honey, let’s blow this joint,” squeal our tires,
turn the radio up way too loud, put the pedal on the floor
and find California.
But Jennifer asked me to think about what Jesus meant
when He sat still beside the grieving.
Instead of whipping out a parable, or a miracle, or a mob car,
He slowed down quiet like, folded himself over like origami
and tucked Himself into a tiny infant body
whose first impulse at the dung air of a stable
was to wail and to weep,
to become helpless before all things,
to take up the art of grieving.
This is the Jesus whose spit cured blindness,
who let His tears fall and mix with the earth,
and I don’t know what that means, but I think Jennifer does,
or else she wouldn’t have asked me to think about it at all.