“Obituary” by Ronald Wallace

Just once, you say,
you’d like to see
an obituary in which
the deceased didn’t succumb
after “a heroic struggle” with cancer,
or heart disease, or Alzheimer’s, or
whatever it was
that finally took him down.
Just once, you say,
couldn’t the obit read:
He got sick and quit.
He gave up the ghost.
He put up no fight at all.
Rolled over. Bailed out.
Got out while the getting was good.
Excused himself from life’s feast.

You’re making a joke and
I laugh, though you can’t know
I’m considering exactly that:
no radical prostatectomy for me,
no matter what General Practitioner
and Major Oncologist may say.
I think, let that walnut-sized
pipsqueak have its way with me,
that pebble in cancer’s slingshot
that brings dim Goliath down.
So, old friend, before I go
and take all the wide world with me,
I want you to know
I picked up the tip.
I skipped the main course,
I’m here in the punch line.
Old friend, the joke’s on me.

“Obituary” by Ronald Wallace, from For a Limited Time Only. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.

“To Sleep” by Ronald Wallace

The poet Donald Hall, once
a teacher of mine, has said
the best way to write a poem is
to go to sleep. But when I try
it, I find it’s difficult to concentrate,
or even hold a pen, and I remember
very little when I’m finished.
Sleep is a good companion but
if all great art is collaboration
sleep is not to be trusted not to
keep all the good stuff for itself
and, just when things look up,
send you packing alone into
the prosaic light of day.

It’s dangerous to lie down
mid-day, late March and dark,
a heavy, wet snow falling from the sky
or rising from the ground, it’s hard
to say, the day a blur
as you drift off toward sleep
rather than keeping your eye on
the great world around you
where it should be if you are
to earn the right to be
called a poet, attentive to
the details of everyday life—
the quality of light, the specific
gravity of the snow, the exact
weight of birdsong and wing.
On a day like today I should sing!

Ah, but poetry’s hard, and sleep
comes so easy, and what does the day
care if I just ignore it, and go
my easy way to oblivion, which is,
now that I think on it, such a
beautiful word.

~ Ronald Wallace, via Construction Lit Mag

“The Truth” by Ronald Wallace

“The Truth” by Ronald Wallace

for Amy

Her breast cancer, she said,
had metastasized to her liver;
she was going to die, and
soon. She said it made her
sad. I didn’t know her well.
We were co-workers and
I liked her, but
what do you say when someone
actually answers the question
how are you?
with the unvarnished truth:
Not well, she said. I haven’t
long to live
. And should I
have said Oh you will! Should I
have smoothed it over
with the syrup of nervousness,
or done what I did
which was to
talk about terror and anger,
the unfairness and the lie,
to take the truth at face value?
No, she was just sad, she said.
She had her faith, she said,
and started to cry. And only then
did I see what she needed from me
was miracle, a simple belief
in miracle, and if that was varnish,
well, it would bring the grain
of the truth out, would save it
from wear and weather.
It would make the truth
almost shine.

“The Truth” by Ronald Wallace, from Long for this World. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003.