in pittsburgh, i could be someone else. i dyed my hair purple; i spit in the face of a maitre d’; i ingested something i really shouldn’t have; i took care of people who ingested things they really shouldn’t have; i wore a cat-in-the-hat hat and a plastic cow necklace almost exclusively; i forgot my vitamins and spent all my money; i kissed someone on the lift up the monongahela incline; i kissed a hidden statue of the virgin mary at duquesne university; i lied about being in pittsburgh when really i was in boston, hurting someone’s feelings beyond repair.
although i lived only 100 miles from it for years, pittsburgh has remained this weekendly surreal place to me. someone who knew me then still lives there, and he sent me this incredible poem this morning:
And my beautiful daughter had her liver cut open in Pittsburgh My God, my God! I rubbed her back over the swollen and wounded essentiality, I massaged her legs, and we talked of death. At the luckiest patients with liver cancer have a 20% chance. We might have talked of my death, not long to come. But no, the falling into death of a beautiful young woman so much more important. A wonderful hospital. If I must die away from my cat Smudge and my Vermont Castings stove let it be at Allegheny General. I read to her, a novella by Allan Gurganus, a russian serious flimsiness by Voinovich, and we talked. We laughed. We actually laughed. I bought her a lipstick which she wore though she disliked the color. Helicopters tooks off and landed on the hospital pad, bringing hearts and kidneys and maybe livers from other places to be transplanted into people in the shining household of technology by shining technologists, wise and kindly. The chances are so slight. Oh, my daughter, my love for you has burgeoned an excess of singularity ever increasing you are my soul for forty years. You still beautiful and young. In my motel I could not sleep. In my woods, on my little farm, in the blizzard on the mountain, I could not sleep either, but scribbled fast verses, very fast and wet with my heartsblood and brainjuice all my life, as now in Pittsburgh. I don’t know which of us will live longer, it’s all a flick of the wrist of the god mankind invented and then had to deinvent, such a failure, like all our failures, and the worst and best is sentimentality after all. Let us go out together. Here in brutal Pittsburgh. Let us be together in the same room, the old poet and the young painter, Each time I travel through the pass, a change occurs, as the rain-fed, rain-gorged, lush green blossoming of moss and mold gives way to white slopes of snow.
It is like the moment after I say goodbye. We become ourselves for a slow moment I want to lengthen between us.