Poems From the Valley

Poems From the Valley

Published in The Banner  (June 20, 1994)

         I     Clench‑fisted Love

               November  1986

The most dreadful moment

(still seared on my sight)

in my thirty‑one years, Dad,

was to watch

you!  helpless

wrapped in sterile white

rolled too efficiently on a stretcher

towards me

speechlessly rooted

and Mom sobbing, clutching, releasing

as they too neatly swung


into the elevator’s hungry mouth.

How could you

at that dreadful moment

think of me!

look at me!

and raise your bare forearm high

and clench your fist

in defiant courage?

And did you too, Heavenly Father,

at that most dreadful moment

when you turned your face from your Beloved

look at me!

think of me!

and raise a colossal clenched fist

in costly triumph

over the shuddering earth?

             II     When Keepers of the House Tremble and Strong Men Stoop

                    August 1991

Mom told me.


on your worst day yet,

just after the third treatment of the third chemo‑go‑round,

the vicious wonder drug

assailing your inmost parts


Your weary suffering inhumane;

the retching so violent,

so frequent,

it seems to Mom your heart will burst.

She cries

at your side

on the bathroom floor

as you bow before the porcelain god

who demands your very internal organs

as the sacrifice for your life.

Deluged with sweat

you stumble outside

… for air?

… to spare her your pain?

… to spare yourself her pain?


            Lord, is this the time?

in choppy thoughts

            Lord, make this the time!

Stricken again,

at the corner of the driveshed

for the twentieth time

in the endless day

you vomit.

Yellow bile puddles at your feet.

As Mom watches you through the kitchen window,

her shoulders heave.

Her racking sobs

shake her tears

into the sink.

You totter into the shed

(Mom frantically immobile)

and emerge with a spade

and then,

a little lower than an angel,


with humble human dignity

cover the offense

from the sight of heaven and earth,

still strong though stooped. 

                 III     Love on Legs

                        December 1991

Edith‑Ann told me.

When she had to undergo emergency surgery,


(after your own operation,

after some fifty prodding examinations,

after 9000 pills in various doses and sequences,

after innumerable bloodtests,

after countless stiffening hours in waiting rooms,

after eighteen CAT scans,

after radiation, agonizingly alone in a drum,

after three courses of chemotherapy,

after five years of relentless combat with cancer)

hurry alongside her stretcher



“If I could do it for you,


I would.”

             IV     Midnight Clarity

                     January 1992

What absurdity this …


in the hospital,

battling your body for your life again



at home,

composing poems.

Do I think I can

suffuse your suffering with meaning

if I can coherently contain it  in words?


do I merely trivialize your pain

by circumscribing it secondhand

on paper?

I tell myself

that I should pray

but instead

I ponder poetry.

Then … epiphany.

Comfort infuses me.


the Word‑Made‑Flesh,

the Creator’s own Personification of love,

can perceive the prayer

within a poem.

             V     Graceful Humour

                    September 1992


after your transfusion,

so sick,

so frustrated

with your rebellious, rumbling body

which would not submit

when visitors were present

but would so loudly and insistently

expel its complaints.

How you and we

experienced laughter’s sweet release

when your dear friend Henk

sprang to the window,

studiously scanned the sky,

and inquired,

(with perfectly serious demeanour)

“Did you see any lightning?”

                                 VI       Epilogue

                                            May 1993

I remember,


when we toured the cancer clinic,

you said,

“I hope no one else

in our family

ever has to go through this.  One is enough,”


I’m still crying,

“Even one is too many.”


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