Maggie’s taking care of a man
who’s dying; he’s attended to everything,
said goodbye to his parents,
paid off his credit card.
She says Why don’t you just
run it up to the limit?
but he wants everything
squared away, no balance owed,
though he misses the pets
he’s already found a home for
— he can’t be around dogs or cats,
too much risk. He says,
I can’t have anything.
She says, A bowl of goldfish?
He says he doesn’t want to start
with anything and then describes
the kind he’d maybe like,
how their tails would fan
to a gold flaring. They talk
about hot jewel tones,
gold lacquer, say maybe
they’ll go pick some out
though he can’t go much of anywhere and then
abruptly he says I can’t love
anything I can’t finish.
He says it like he’s had enough
of the whole scintillant world,
though what he means is
he’ll never be satisfied and therefore
has established this discipline,
a kind of severe rehearsal.
That’s where they leave it,
him looking out the window,
her knitting as she does because
she needs to do something.
Later he leaves a message:
Yes to the bowl of goldfish.
Meaning: let me go, if I have to,
in brilliance. In a story I read,
a Zen master who’d perfected
his detachment from the things of the world
remembered, at the moment of dying,
a deer he used to feed in the park,
and wondered who might care for it,
and at that instant was reborn
in the stunned flesh of a fawn.
So, Maggie’s friend —
Is he going out
Into the last loved object
Of his attention?
Fanning the veined translucence
Of an opulent tail,
Undulant in some uncapturable curve
Is he bronze chrysanthemums,
Copper leaf, hurried darting,
Doubloons, icon-colored fins
Troubling the water?