Brenda Bechtel

My friend, a whale biologist, is himself
a research subject of experimental drug therapy
to combat a bone-consuming cancer.

I visit him, taking along cake from last night’s dinner,
and as he greets me he goes into the kitchen
for silverware, a knife and plates and cuts the cake
at the table where we eat it over conversation.

We have known each other long and well; he remains
in character negotiating around the back door of life
while I feel uncomfortably disconnected in the onslaught
of an invisible predator that strikes his skull, spine, hips and ribs.

He shares at ease what he knows about his doctors,
the academics of chemotherapy and infusions, the prognosis,
the adjustments his family makes, and his visitors.
But I don’t ask and he doesn’t offer to tell me
how he really is and I don’t know why.

In seventh grade I lost a classmate to a brain tumor. One day
she didn’t come to school and the teachers explained to us later.
But darkness at that age was the other side of the moon and
we had time within ourselves to forget what we couldn’t see.

Terror sits at the table beside him and I secretly wince at this
fictionalized account, given to him by one of his more colorful
friends, of the failed Franklin Expedition, that ended in death
by starvation for its crew searching for the Northwest Passage.
Dredging up stories from our own past, we make each other laugh.

In my leaving we embrace; he is weary and I careful, remembering
that the very act of walking might cause his bones to break,
not to hold on too tightly to the slow release of love.