Yesterday I heard Chana read recent poems, most about her diagnosis of terminal cancer. She was incandescent and spoke of how a fatal disease can also be a gift, focusing the mind, the spirit, on what’s important. She mentioned that her first book started with a group of poems about her father’s death, and the irony that her career is completing itself with this new work, on contemplating her own death. I don’t have any of the new poems, “still a work in progress,” Chana says, but here is one about her father:
Theirs was the one with the noisy bedsprings.
How does a child solve a riddle like that?
—are they fighting again?
Theirs was a marriage of drums and cymbals,
a clashing-and-carping, nagging-and-clamoring
performed day in, day out.
Your mother wanted me dead or alive.
His story of the year they met, retold
in the cancer ward. He was teasing her.
She was laughing too! And I looked away
as if I’d caught them in the act.
Out in the corridor she outdid his story:
“Daddy wanted to make love.
I told him, But honey, your back!
You know what your father answered?
There’s nothing wrong with my front.”
I watched her shave him in the hospital bed.
She was so tender it left me confused
—one hand cupped to his chin, the other
stroking his cheek with the razor.
You can see more of her work here.