Homework

for my father

I almost knew by heart all those med-school books
piled on my chest: Hencke und Lubarsh, Abrikosoff,
the books filled with dust of the anatomy museums
still guarded by the infants floating in the liquid,
long-desired drink of our victorious infantry.
Then: Merck, Harrison, their principles as heavy
as the New England snow sheets.

We know a disease has its own time structure:
after the torpid phase—explosion at some point,
creating a palpable image, that we have to study
and study until it’s hard to breathe.

Night opens all the books and the gray wind turns the pages.
I studied them, I ate them
until my brain was turned
into a cracked stone with lengthy lines of convolutions.
Who would remember now all those stories of destruction,
the voyages of fever across the world’s ocean.
The Papatachi fever. Who would know?
I know you would.

You knew all the answers.
You wanted me to study in order
to survive this life.
It does not matter anymore.
What matters is that the air vanishes.
This very air that feeds the cells, their cytoplasm,
those wonderful convex membranes and to give the air of presence,
to project the gesture, to make us exclaim the words
when we are not asked, that is
our ethnic trait.

It’s getting closer and I still can’t find
the subject in all those books.
Where is that page, this line in the subject matter,
that would classify the void,
this wide black hole growing on me
as you grow smaller and smaller.

South Carolina Review, 10/18/04

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