Richard Allen Taylor
How could I know your sickness would bring gifts?
Your forced absence from work zipped us together
like two halves of a winter coat. Your loss of income
made me nimbler, more jugglesome, able to stretch
a ten-dollar bill from Monday to Thursday.
We learned to get by with less. That was a gift.
But that dented pewter mug in the kitchen,
the giver and the occasion lost in the fog of time,
is good for nothing but holding matchbooks.
It needs to go. And who knew our belt-tightening
and your need to avoid crowds and germs
would improve my cooking? Surely, that was a gift.
But all charm has abandoned those three sets
of whiskey decanters, with matching crystal tumblers,
sitting idly atop the cabinets all these years,
the first a remembrance of a special occasion,
the second and third sets bestowed upon us
by copycat gift givers who assumed we were collecting
decanters, though we rarely drink liquor. Yet,
learning we could live leaner, eat peanut butter
on whole wheat, thrive on canned spinach,
eat in more, out less, and lose weight—
those were unexpected gifts. But that hand-crafted
corn-husk angel from a long-ago birthday, the one
suspended on the wall by a noose-looking twist
of husk, reminds me of the Salem Witch Trials. I know
you will not part with it. But if you die first,
it will go. I value more the gifts of friends who sent
a card or a casserole, and made us a present
of their prayers. But that gift from a former co-worker,
a gadget that does nothing but prop open the pages of a book,
in case I am ever handcuffed, can go out with the witch.
I’ll keep forever the gift of my new fluency in the foreign
languages of hematology and oncology, and my new skills
in the science of buying beans and detergent, acquired when
you were too sick to shop. And though not wrapped
or ribboned, watching you medal-of-honor your way
through six months of cancer has been a gift, almost as fine
as the [despite/because of/regardless of] mystery of being
alive together, broke but not poor, and more in love than ever.
Author’s comment: When my wife, Julie, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in September 2016, it changed our lives in both expected and unexpected ways. She endured many rounds of chemotherapy, which can (and did) have horrible side effects, yet she survived and is on her way to recovery. Along the way, we grew closer together and learned to deal with many of the problems a long illness can cause. When I was prompted by a friend to write a poem about gifts, I was inspired to write about the positive things—which we considered gifts—that emerge from dealing with tough situations.