Chard deNiord

The Widow at Point Reyes and Broncoscopy
July 21, 2021 deNiord Chard



She sat for an hour watching 10,000 tiny silver fish
swimming around in Abbotts Lagoon, talking
to the dunes, calling their bluff, reading every-
thing that came to mind into the clouds that floated
by above like cosmic erasers. How smug and doomed
she felt, but also wise, which seemed ridiculous
if true at the time in the way truth feels
when it’s gone too long without a nod
to the hieroglyphs in the sky. The tiny fish
swam like checks in every direction they turned.
What was she to think other than they approved;
other than they were so many silver yeses
to whatever she was thinking, no matter how strange
or wrong. Down at the shore, giant waves descended
onto the beach in rhythmic roars. She told
the body of a rotten mackerel picked clean
by gulls the word. “Can you guess my sweet,
my love?” she asked. “I’ll give you a clue.
It rhymes with you but can’t be spoken or heard.”





My father wanted me to see what he did
for a living with the hope that I’d grow up
to do the same, which was to operate on people
while they lay sleeping in the dreamless dark
of anesthesia. So, one day when I was twelve
he took me to Clifton Forge where he worked
as the company surgeon for the C&O Railroad
and asked me to peer down into the lung
of an elderly engineer through a bronchial
scope that he had threaded through
his trachea and was moving around his upper
and lower lobes. He asked me to step on
a stool that he had placed beside the engineer
seated below on a similar stool as he held
the shiny tool like a sword in both of his hands
and asked me “to take a look.” So I did
without knowing what to say except “okay.”
“Now look down there like I just did,” he said,
which I did with one eye closed while spying
with the other the vast reticulate labyrinth
of a speckled lung and its sepia lining of pleura.
The scope was lit by a tiny bulb that pierced
the darkness of his insides—what I would later come
to call the “numen saccus” when I had grown
and come to see the seat of breath as the spirit’s
home, and the more I looked the more a darkness
rose despite the light at the end of the tube
since I felt sure that I was spying the end
of this man’s life in the specter of a shade
that entered my eye. It was then, in only a moment
of my gazing away, that I saw in the beam
of the instrument’s lens the brilliant lamp
of an engine barreling down on me with more
than a hundred cars behind  it full of coal
and this psychopomp at his window and controls
waving at me in the din of his train
on its hundreds of wheels shaking the trees
and sleepers, shining the tracks in squeals,
and the whistle, too, piercing my ears
as it rose to the clouds where it disappeared
into the sky’s cerulean blue, which was when
without any warning or signal from my father
to move my head away from the scope,
that the engineer coughed a ghastly cough,
trembling as he did from his shoulders down,
propelling a wad of phlegm into my eye.
My father chuckled like a god, then joked,
“Welcome to medicine, son” as I fell back
into the arms of the nurse behind me who said,
“You got an eyeful there, young man!”
then wiped it off—the holy sputum
my father reported the following week,
when word came back from the lab, had tested
positive for cancer cells. But it remained,
that phlegm, as a film in my eye that’s thickened
with age to a strong clear lens for seeing
straight through the scope of time
to the various, desultory, inevitable ends
of everyone I meet.

Chard deNiord is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently In My Unknowing (University of Pittsburgh Press 2020) and Interstate (U. of Pittsburgh, 2015). He is also the author of two books of interviews with eminent American poets titled Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs, Conversations and Reflections on 20th Century Poetry (Marick Press, 2011) and I Would Lie To You If I Could  (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018). He co-founded the New England College MFA program in 2001 and the Ruth Stone Foundation in 2011. He served as poet laureate of Vermont from 2015 to 2019 and taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-two years at Providence College, where is now a Professor Emeritus. He lives in Westminster West, Vt. with his wife, the painter, Liz Hawkes deNiord.