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Poem: They Set Your Body On Fire 

For Paul Charles Barone, 1957-2007

It went something like this:
You are sitting there with a forkful of salad in your mouth
Telling me about the guy you met at Artie’s
The other night
Over a plate of spaghetti.
The guy who wouldn’t stop talking to you.
The guy whose tears you watched
Drop into his gin and tonic
As he told you about his son
Who died unexpectedly last week.
And then,
A couple of months later,
Like some crazy bad dream,
You call your friend the chiropractor in the middle of the night,
And you tell him that you’re not feeling yourself.
Something’s not right.
And so he calls 911. And the ambulance
Arrives to your tall stooping house on Lucas Avenue.
And they strap you in and screech you up to the hospital on the hill,
Right across the street from the graveyard.
And the hospital on the hill gives you a CAT scan.
And then they speed you, sirens screaming under the stars,
To Sloan-Kettering.
And after Sloan heaves you into their MR f—ing I machine,
After they saw open your skull and insert 2 shunts into your brain,
The doctors at the most prestigious cancer hospital in the world
Tell your family and friends,
All of them gathered around your bed waiting—
(You are there too of course, in your back-less blue robe),
The Sloan-Kettering doctors say something like:
We’re so sorry. But there’s nothing we can do.
And then they go and call the Hospice people.
And when I walk into your room a couple of days later
You start weeping.
You see me, and your whole body bursts into Niagara Falls.
And you look at me.
You look at me in a way you have never looked at me.
And you say,
With the Frankenstein stitches laced across your scalp, you say,
I think I am going to cry for the rest of my life.
And then the Death Specialists ambulance you back
To the hospital on the hill. By the graveyard.
This time you’re placed in The Hospice Wing. The Hopeless Wing.
And, a couple of days later, I visit you again.
This time you’ve had a shave and a bath
And your earth-angel-wife, Sherry (who has not left your side),
Has helped you floss and brush your teeth.
And now, suddenly, you are getting better. You’re smiling again.
There’s been this miracle. We all knew you could never die.
Not now.
Not like this.
And I am sitting in a chair next to your bed.
And you look at me. And inside your eyes I see the whole cosmos on fire.
And you take my hands. And you say, in your beautiful Bogart voice,
You say,
I’ve been to the other side.
I’ve seen worlds.
And then. Two weeks later. You die.
Just like that.
Boom.
You’re gone.
Forever.

And I wonder. Sitting here. In the middle of the night.
Sitting here,
In the middle of life,
Only about eleven blocks from your empty house
Where the For Sale sign stands staked into your front lawn like a scarecrow.
I wonder,
What is it like on the other side?
What does it feel like, Paul Barone?
The holy sublime
The burning divine
The undreamed of thing
Beyond your skin
Beyond your eyes
Beyond the sky

What is it like?

—Carolyn Corbett

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