Sara Kirschenbaum
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A New Poem About Bernie

Posted Thursday, Apr 07th, 2016 at 6:04pm

I wrote this in the last days of Bernie's life, while holding onto him.


Can love (Can’t breathe)

Can breathe

Can squeeze Sue’s thumb

Can touch nose

Can move hand a few inches

Can’t hold arm up to scratch nose

Can’t swallow

Can’t drink

Can’t remember how many kisses he gets each night (4 ½)

Can’t eat

Can’t read

Can’t hold up newspaper

Can’t speak

Can’t do shapes with his hands for the morning dance

Can’t sit

Can’t walk

Can’t sit in a wheelchair

Can’t appreciate humor

Can’t make a joke

Can’t say, “Leave me alone god-dammit!”

Can’t turn

Can’t stand

Can’t focus on reading

Can’t focus on television

Can’t remember 30 seconds ago

Can’t read headlines

Can’t read the History of the Jews

Can’t read the History of Africa

Can’t organize keys

Can’t open the mail

Can’t figure out which mail to save

Can’t go to the doctor’s appointment

Can’t walk to the wheelchair

Can’t go outside

Can’t fly to Portland

Can’t take the train across Canada

Can’t see his pattern in my kitchen floor marmoleum

Can’t walk

Can’t walk to the bathroom

Can’t sign his name

Can’t stand on the scale

Can’t hold a cup of tea

Can’t lift a sandwich

Can’t find the urinal

Can’t remember that he’s already read the History of the Jews

Can’t remember that he already told the story of having the highest clearance with the Department

of Defense and could take over any factory to make the 31 raydomes around the arctic circle.

Can’t remember who the nurse/IV nurse/counselor/spiritual counselor/med nurse is but is happy to see them.

Can barely take a taxi to a fancy restaurant

Can’t remember the three words Dr. Sharma told him to remember 5 minutes ago.

Can’t finish anything

Can’t finish re-entering the quicken data

Can’t stop having heart attacks

Can’t manage the buses

Isn’t allowed to drive

Can’t manage to respond to the threatening letters from the IRS

Can’t find the right computer disk

Can’t find the right computer manual

Can’t find an intelligent person on the technical assistance helpline

Can’t get his model sculpture looking the way he wants it

Can’t understand why he didn’t get more publicity for his show

Can’t do another trip to Sweden

Can’t walk for miles like he used to

Can’t drink martinis like he used to

Can’t get his sculpture done on time for the opening because he routered his thumb

Can’t control his temper

Can’t stop his depression

Can’t stop being a perfectionist

Can’t talk about his war experience because his 12-year-old daughter isn’t just now interested

Can’t describe what he saw at the concentration camp

Can’t stand the guilt-trip his mother lays on him for not writing

Can’t wait to sign up to serve

Can’t memorize plant Latin names as fast as he’d like

Can’t remember enjoying anything as much as working on the farm

Can’t wait to feed the pigs

Is not supposed to keep hiding live animals in his closet at home in the Bronx

Mustn’t stop to talk with the Priests strolling in the Bronx Botanic Gardens

Can’t write with his left hand because it’s not allowed

Can’t have any guarantees that he will survive the double-mastoidectomy

Can’t wait to see mama when she’s home from teaching school

Can touch his nose.

Can squeeze his mom’s thumb

Can breath

Can love (can’t breathe)


  1. l kolb Wrote on Thursday, Apr 07th, 2016 at 6:26pm


  2. Sophronia Bozeman Wrote on Thursday, Apr 07th, 2016 at 8:13pm

    Sara, you said everything in your poem. I can feel the words.

  3. Sophronia Bozeman Wrote on Thursday, Apr 07th, 2016 at 8:13pm

    Sara, you said everything in your poem. I can feel the words.

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