Going First

—with a nod to Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall

He’d meant to outlive her, but didn’t; had vowed,
(if only to himself) to see her through.

We have little say over these things really,
he realized late, as his heart crumpled
on the blue screen, his topography of sharp
mountains converting to flat plains.

On the first anniversary of his death,
a broodish day in June, her breast erupted—
a volcanic calcified corpus
mixed with pus and blood.

She had misprized the cost
of losing her breast, what’s more,
her dignity, and, for what it’s worth,
the moments left to be used as she pleased.

She was glad to see him go first,
hold his cold fingers as he went,
content to spare him the messier death.

Life costs too much, she thought, as hers ended.
A quarter for each x-ray, fifty cents per pill,
the bargains brokered by hope,
the cut enormous, yes, it costs, dear.

Time is an ink spot running in many directions
at once, with nothing to guide us home, no choice moment.
After so many broken promises, we each die
our own death.

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