The curtains were drawn, I walked into the room,

Looked at the lady, and said, “How do you do?”

She was very kind, just a little bit addled,

But the doctors around us were really quite baffled

Had she had a stroke? Was it an MVC?

There was nothing at all on the repeat CT

Save a little bit of shadowing, in the corner over here

But the pictures are too blurry. No, not a single thing is clear!

So they made a few calls, paused, and made a couple more

They met with the consultants on every single floor

They put their heads together, and came up with an answer

“It’s so obvious!” they said. “She has metastatic cancer!”

So they sent me to the patient, to have a little talk,

Since the patient was annoyed. She’d found out she couldn’t walk.

But I had made her smile before, that’s why they sent me in

“She’ll listen to you,” they said. “The situation’s win-win.”

But it was hell when she held my hand. A little part of me died.

I found I couldn’t say the truth, but there was no way I could lie

So I just smiled and told her things she didn’t understand

She smiled right back and nodded as she kept on holding my hand

“I don’t know much,” I started off. “But we think we have an answer.

This sickness here inside of you? We think it’s some kind of cancer.”

She knew she had a cancer, that wasn’t news to her.

But everything else I had to say just turned into a blur.

I didn’t tell her she had three weeks. I still don’t think she knows.

Because the doctor was coming in, and I said, “Let’s see how it goes.”

Today, this morning, she took my hand

And said to me, “Dear, I don’t quite understand.

They’re all quite silly, or else they’re being modest.

But you’re so nice. I know you’ll be honest.

I know I have a sickness, somewhere deep inside.

Tell me, my dear, am I going to die?”

I didn’t know how to respond to her words

The whole situation, to me, seemed rather absurd

I’m a writer, a poet. When I ask, words obey.

But how could I use them when there were no words to say?

Her eyes were right there, so close to me!

Her face and her trust were all I could see

The whole room was spinning. There was nowhere to run

I just couldn’t tell her that her life was done!

But the doctors wouldn’t say it, and the nurses thought she knew

She wouldn’t listen to anyone else, and I didn’t know what to do

I had a dear friend, once, who’d died just this way

I’d watched straight to the end, until God took her away

And now here was another, whose face was watching mine

A face which now will haunt me until the end of time

A face I couldn’t lie from, but I couldn’t tell the truth

When all your words have failed you, what on earth are you to do?


2 thoughts on “When Words Fail

  1. I like this. I have been in this situation many many times- and slthough you’ve written it in a slightly comical way, it gets across your point in this simple and plain, lovely manner


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