On A Moderately Successful Poet


ON A Moderately Successful Poet

Heart attack, heart attack
You’re dead.
There’ll be a cross behind your head.
Alack, alack
The crows will say.
The cows behind the fence will pray.
Last year’s stack
Of hay decays,
The graveyard grass bends with the breeze
When winter comes the rose will freeze.
The sun will wear away the days
Until no one knows that you are here.
New hands will lift the hotel’s beer
And falling leaves will be your praise.

A poem for myself brought on by the fact that hiking up McInnis Rise, the ridge on which I now live, left me breathless. Unusual for someone who, for years, climbed Mt. Finlayson every Wednesday afternoon no matter what the weather, who walked over Mt. Tolmie to the University and back.

I mentioned it as a curiosity when I was seeing my GP about something so trivial that I don’t remember what it was. Probably, a bashed and bloodied toenail.

You’ve got my attention, he said. Then he started asking me questions. I don’t like questions asked by doctors and I like it even less when I’m forced to say yes to them. In the morning do you cough up clear phlegm? Have you had a pain in your chest? A pain in your left arm? Etc. Yes, yes, yes. Unfortunately. Do you get short of breathe? Yes, I said, but that’s because I have a history of asthma.

“You need to have a stress test,” he said and arranged one.

Nonsense, I thought, I’m as fit as a horse, an older horse, mind you, a seventy-three year old horse. However, when I got an appointment for the stress tests, I said, “No coffee? You’ve got to be kidding. For an entire day and a morning? How about half a cup?” No. No. No. These people in the angio department aren’t into negotiating.

I went without coffee. I went to the hospital. I let them shoot me up with nuclear waste from Chernoble. I stood on that ramp and went walk, walk, walk. It didn’t work too well. Or, I didn’t work too well. Somebody sat on my chest. The second day we did it again. I didn’t make it to level three. A shot of Brennavin and I’d have been fine but they didn’t have any.

“I think,” the specialist said, “you may have a blockage here and here.” And he showed on a plastic model of a heart. “A CT scan of your heart will tell me what I need to know.”

“I was supposed to be in Gimli, Manitoba four weeks ago. I have a lot of work to do there.I’m writing a novel. I need to know when the pussy willows bloom.”

“A CT scan,” he said. “We’ll arrange it as soon as possible.”

I suggested they just rip out my heart and replace it with a polar bear heart. Grrrr. Unfortunately, polar bear hearts are in short supply.

After the CT scan, the specialist showed me that plastic heart again. Who makes these kinds of things? On Mondays we make hearts. On Tuesdays we make kidneys. On….

“Your artery is blocked 70% here. And this artery is blocked 50% here.” He pointed at two holes in the plastic heart. “We’ll arrange an angiogram.”

I don’t want to jump out of this plane. I don’t care if the engines are not working right. Just give them the gas. They’ll speed up.

Today, the phone rang. There’s been a cancellation. I’m to be at the hospital tomorrow at 9. Operation at 1:00. My daughter or my friends, Richard and Trish Baer, are to pick me up in the early evening or, maybe, the next morning.

I’m sure all will go well. The angiogram will probably be followed by an angioplasty. That’s where they inflate a balloon and squash the muck in the artery against the artery wall so more blood can flow into your heart. Personally, I’d have preferred a polar bear heart. Too bad they’re in such short supply.

(If you find yourself short of breath, have a pain, no matter how small in your chest, a pain in your left arm, have it checked out. Better before a heart attack than after.)

Stress test

I had a stress test today.

I thought they were going to get me into a  room and say stressful things like “We just got a phone call. Your house had burned down.”  Or “The Income Tax dept. called wanting to see your records for the last twenty years.”

Instead, they hooked me up to a bunch of electrodes. I thought they were going to electrocute me. “Make it quick”, I said. “I don’t want to suffer.”

“You must be really anxious about this test,” the technician said. “Your blood pressure is 1 gazillion over a million.” That made me nervous.

She turned on the machine. My soles had sticky sap on them from the Fir tree outside my garage. They stuck to the treadmill.

“Help!” I said. I was hanging onto the wooden bar for dear life while the machine tried to turn me into Plastic Man.

“Walk,” she said. “Walk.”

“The gum,” I wheezed. It did no good.

She turned the machine up. Faster, faster, higher, faster.

My heart hit 133. She turned off the machine. I was only on stage 2. Never even got close to stage 3. I could have done better without the gum.

“Let’s do it again,” I said, “in my sock feet.”

“Your chart looks fine,” she replied. “You’ll hear from your family doctor in a week.”

I could have avoided this by not telling my GP that I got short of breath hiking up McInnis Rise to my house. McInnis Rise, if it was in Europe, would be one of the Alps. To buy groceries, I have to walk up the rise to the top, then down, down, down until I get to the corner of Cook, Cloverdale and Qaudra, then risk my life sprinting across the corner where all streets converge.

On the way back, I have one bag of groceries. I feel like a Sherpa in Nepal. Sometimes, I have two bags of groceries. I feel like two Sherpas in Nepal. There was a time when I would have run up this road. With the groceries. Those were the days of rock climbing, hiking, folk dancing. My idea of exercise nowadays is lifting my cup of coffee.

I got home and exercised my arm by using a large cup full to the top but the treadmill haunted me. What if, instead of those little blips on the chart, the line had been flat? What if she’d looked at the chart and said, “You may not know it but you’ve been dead for some time.” That sort of thing.

I went to Playfair Park and walked around it three times. So there. It’s a start.

The problem is inertia and cookies, inertia and puddings, inertia and ice cream. Occasionally, inertia and chocolate bars.

Tomorrow, I promise, I will, absolutely, go for that walk around Playfair Park again. For sure. No matter what. Every day. Rain or shine.

And buy a heavier coffee cup.

(You know this isn’t me. He’s got hair. He’s young. He’s good looking. I can’t imagine why he’s taking a stress test. )