Last Quartet: Poetry for the Immune Deficient is a collection of poems for everyone who has suffered loss, for everyone who lacks immunity from what life has to offer. The occasion for these poems was the death from AIDS of my ex-husband and best friend Dick Newton in 1986. The poems are about loss — how we choose to encounter it, how it comes to us in ways we are not prepared for. They are also about the complexities of relationship and about poetry as a form of healing. “Press Twice for Yes” appeared in poetalk, Summer 2011, and “Last Quartet” on the Saturday Poetry Series for http://asitoughttobe.com/2011/08/06/saturday-poetry-series-presents-judith-netwon/.
PRESS TWICE FOR YES
by Judith Newton
Do you know me? Are you too warm? Shall I help you die?
“There’s none can die in the arms of those who are wishing them sore to stay on earth.”
In the end when you lay almost in a coma,
your belly concave as the flanks of living skeletons
in newsreels long ago,
your pointed hips worn through almost
in purple bed sores
as if your skin had turned to rotting clothes.
Your eyes showed strips of white
like blinds drawn down in a house where I once lived,
and I saw your mind withdraw,
as in a dream when I returned
and found the roof of my old room had fallen in.
And yet your hands were warm, and they were large hands still,
with long square fingers, hands to lay my life in–
now they lay in mine,
as if they were the life in you that still remained.
I held on to them, held on to you
straining not to hear the strangled rasping of your breath,
trying not to see how I was like that man
who kept his dying child from rest by “wishing” it,
by willing it to stay
and pulling it still closer to his breast.
By Judith Newton
In the end,
you would no longer hear your music—
you, whose rooms had been alive with it,
whose life was Late Quartet.
I think of you and I remember Beethoven
in a Berkeley house,
the light from quiet windows
heightening the patina of well used surfaces,
ferns, like green swords,
piercing the heart of the afternoon,
and, through the swelling turbulence of the strings—
the counterpoint of intellect
serenely resonant at its labors.
To forgo your music was, for you, the worst farewell,
to live in silence, a dark prelude to what you knew would come.
I think of you in the end—a holy man despite yourself—
bearing your body’s discord with deliberate grace,
and with a tremolo of acquiescence
closing off the sweet vibratos of this world.
I think of you, in this after moment,
when the tone arm lifts, the record ends,
and Late Quartet
still dilates the impassioned air.