My Poem about Shingles

Published 2016
The Southampton Review

I didn’t think I’d ever write a poem about shingles
But here I am
Pain and welts and puss and swell
I have 3 drugs and two of them work

I am not supposed to be around “infants, pregnant women,
Or anyone on chemotherapy”
(said the pretty Madison Avenue dermatologist who diagnosed what I
assumed was an
inconsequential rash)

My friend Vicki is on chemo for the very last time
I sat crazy close to her the day before
My shingles were uncovered discoverd
Diagnosed then treated

The infectious disease specialist finally
Swore our contact “didn’t further jeopardize”
And another doctor I checked with told me “she’s going to die anyway–and
not because
of you,” which made me feel better
Not even a speck.

Vicki emailed me during my panic
Worried about MY pain
She had heard shingles “can be so very painful”
(I’ve heard a few things too
About cancer but I didn’t email her that)

I did email Vicki a poem I’d written
About how I cannot change the world but wish I could
Which she called “beautiful” before she said she was too tired to
Write more

Vicki will probably not be alive
When the heat finally breaks
In deep September

Vicki will likely
Not see her son leave
For his freshman year at Georgetown

Vicki’s son and my son were friends once
Upon a time
Wobbly-young and sweet
Vicki and I trailing them carefully
not picking them up when they fell so they would become independent
like a book I’d read
had said

I will see my son at Thanksgiving this year
and probably beyond that
And Vicki won’t even see
Her son finish growing (they say boys grow until they’re 21 but who
really knows and
What’s another inch or two anyway?)

I don’t have anything fatal at the moment
And of course
you never know
But that’s where hope comes in
And I am more careful crossing streets than I used to be

Any my beautiful spouse makes sure I
mammogram sonogram colonoscopy with rigid regularity
I eat more greens than browns
And more things that swim than walk

And yet now I have shingles
During the end of Vicki having cancer and both are kind of killing me
And only one is killing her