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Death and Life

February 24, 2014

What the Doctor Said & Late Fragment by Raymond Carver

Both poems are from A New Path to the Waterfall, published posthumously in 1989, and were on Poetry Please on BBC Radio 4 last week.  What the Doctor Said is harrowing. It begins conventionally enough, with black humour getting Carver and the doctor through. But in the final three lines, by calling his death sentence its opposite, a gift for which he says thank you, Carver reveals the full extent of his anger, terror and confusion. He died of lung cancer age 50.

What the Doctor Said

He said it doesn’t look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them
I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know
about any more being there than that
he said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today
he said I’m real sorry he said
I wish I had some other kind of news to give you
I said Amen and he said something else
I didn’t catch and not knowing what else to do
and not wanting him to have to repeat it
and me to have to fully digest it
I just looked at him
for a minute and he looked back it was then
I jumped up and shook hands with this man who’d just given me
something no one else on earth had ever given me
I may have even thanked him habit being so strong


So thank heavens for Late Fragment. The final poem in A New Path to the Waterfall.

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

By Raymond Carver

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