I wrote this poem to my forty-year-old friend, Bahige Nuhaily, who came to me, dying of lung cancer. After spending time with him, I came to realize that he was more comfortable facing his death than I was.
The contrast between my inconsolable grief and his serene acceptance, my anger at life’s injustice and his smiling indifference, inspired this poem.
His heroic pathos, that even death can be rendered beautiful by change of attitude, has amended my perception of mortality.
Ode To A Dying Friend
And when we are together, you and I
In the silent room
And it is time to speak
My hesitating phrases cannot find the exit
Bounce from cheek to cheek
Collapse exhausted, in my throat they lie
So utterless and dead.
I slowly sit upon your bed
Squeeze your hand and stroke your head
And let the clumsy silence cry:
Hello my friend; I came to say good-bye
And everything is said.
Why do I fear your weary, setting eyes
Upon my pounding chest tattoo goodbyes?
And angry visions pace my mind, I hear
Their drumming hoofs approaching and I rise.
These tired processes of life must come to rest
And it is time to go
Time to recollect the scattered years
Of memories and woe
Time to know that it is all the same
An ancient, ceremonial game
A melancholy setting to the west
And you become a name
When they will fold your arms upon your chest.
And so we part
I, wondering is it wine or blood
That beats within your heart?
For you lie deep in peaceful sleep
While angry visions pace my mind
So I rebel, I hate, deny
Yet, in this cold and lonesome place
So fearless and alone you lie
And I remain behind to face
The separation and the pain
The fear that I would die again
In yet another cold and lonesome place.