Sam Ambler




When the fire is mostly out,
when there are cinders smoldering
and smoke fuming but no actual flames,
his father and I traverse the ash heap
of ruins that had been their stately home.
The remnants of an elegant balustrade
border, on both sides, what had been the foyer,
and the stairs are sturdy enough to climb.
I make my way by instinct to the second landing
where his room once stood. I pass
the charred doorpost, and beeline to his bed,
where, we suppose, he had been sleeping.
There is a skeleton atop a blackened
jacquard duvet with candle wax, laid out
like an abused diadem at the crown of the bed.
I cannot continue to look. It can only be . . .
more than I can bear. I kneel at his side
and find a small burnt length of rope at his neck.
If he had written me a note, it is gone.
As he is gone. And I am left bereft.




The first thunder sounded
in the steely, small voice
of an oncologist:
Pancreatic cancer.
Off in the distance
and yet so near.

The second thunder sounded
in his mind alone:
I will fight it
to the inevitable end.
It might take me,
but I will not go easily.
Confidence or bluster
in the face
of overwhelming odds

The third thunder sounded
in the tears of his family:
We are not ready,
but we will stay
by your side through it all.
The culmination of love
in a garden of adversity

The fourth thunder sounded
when the pain began:
I did not know.
How could I know?
No one could have told me—
Just . . . kill me now.
Agony beyond imagining,
beyond words,

as his body is devoured
from inside out.

The fifth thunder sounded
when even after radiation,
chemo, every treatment
they could possibly try,
the cancer metastasized,
spread throughout his body:
There is less and less of me
every day.
And still he persevered.

The sixth thunder sounded
as his wife held him
in the catacomb of night:
I have loved you
since the day we met,
and I will love you always.
Peace at last
felt to be something . . . real.

The seventh thunder sounded
when he woke
and there was nothing
but pain, nothing:
Call the hospice nurse
and tell him it is time,
my time has come.
Not exactly euthanasia
and not exactly assisted suicide,
but a nudge. Extra morphine.
It happens all the time.