Cover image for Sloan Kettering : poems
Title:
Sloan Kettering : poems
Author:
Kovner, Abba, 1918-1987.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Poems. Selections. English
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Schocken Books, [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
xvi, 134 pages ; 19 cm
Language:
English
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780805241983
Format :
Book

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PJ5054.K6 A25 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

In his final collection of poems, Abba Kovner -- the famed Jewish resistance fighter who led the Vilna ghetto uprising during World War II -- records his battle with cancer and his deep engagement with life up to his last days.

A beloved master of Hebrew literature, Abba Kovner was a poet, novelist, and essayist whose work has seldom appeared in English. These clear, spare, luminous verses bring his voice to us in all its fullness. Facing the one fight he knew he would lose, Kovner records in these poems his final weeks, as he was dying of cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York.

Weaving together his perceptions of the present moment ("How little we need to be happy: a half kilo increase in weight, /two circuits of the corridors"), sorrow at leaving the world and at the dramatic loss of his vocal chords ("Have I no right to die/while still alive?"), and memories of his heroic comrades in the Baltic forest, Kovner emerges from these pages with yet another kind of heroism. His desire to give a complete account of the gift of life, even as that life is failing, makes these poems deeply moving and unforgettable.


Excerpts

Excerpts

I. INTRODUCTION And like that the door opened without a click pushing aside the shifting straw curtain his shadow entered followed by the man with his mane of dark hair a young man with large eyes At once they took their places at the head of his bed (the shadow quietly folded itself away between the sink and the bedpans) and with the stance of a Trappist-to-be he declared: "The time has come. "My time has come?" he trembled. "That's what I said," he added like a professional phantom. "Where are we going, do you really know the way?" "We are taking you there." He fell silent. "Can I ask a question?" "Too late." (The swine!) "Let me take a towel, some soap, a book?" "Unnecessary. Anyone who enters comes out as he went in." At once he turned to leave. As he went out, trailing after him came his smell, his shadow and his dread. II. THE CORRIDOR He fell asleep under strange skies He fell asleep under strange skies. Vaulted windows the neo-renaissance style of New York Hospital.Outside the last thing his eyes took in clearly: three chimneysa crematorium a red-tiled roofat the back Rockefeller University, the medical center, a world of vanished routines, your home and your rooms suddenly emptied of yesterday's light. Still inside East River beyond the foot of the wall. Like a crimson tongue silently encompassing Roosevelt Island the river gently ripples. Shocked by the sight of power soaring above him concrete and dark glass proud gods- ready to forgo the knowledge acquired to cope with self-examination, studying the powers assembled summoned up and recruited to cut throats still inside. Outside a small finger fumbles for that bag of skin and bones, to say through dry lips: No! to the knife. A second time. Fiction caught in the thicket Dr. Strong is a large-limbed man, a surgeon brimming with confidence. When he talks about cancer of the throat, the head or, let's say, the larynx, chasms melt away. But when he draws near the edge of the bed and looms over your face, your heart falls before the cold blue of his eyes, an indifferent patch of sky, and you shudder like one challenged to stand up for his right to live, even with closed eyes. A second. Another half second-and after nine hours of anesthesia, when you return and open them, and speech rises and is heard floating out of the darkness, a still, small voice, you know a little more about the natureof the heart and the world and the man whose hands have done everything for you that a man's hands can do and the rest is with heaven - - - - Sloan-Kettering Sloan-Kettering (its full name: Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center) is a large and growing building and all those who come within its walls to strip naked, jointly and separately, suddenly find themselves in a cage, captive, exposed and the silence astounds on all its many floors and when a patient cut off from his supervisor finds himself running from room to room with no idea where to turn first, peering down the glaring corridors, half-open doors and half- shut, Sloan-Kettering is a personal encounter with a pathless wilderness between yellow arrows and blue signs something obscure is going on in the feverish cells of your brain at the entrance to a triple elevator that has not yet opened its maw like a desert beginning to take shape from within; Transparent infusion Drop by drop colorless atropine oozing down into his veins, like death. Like his name spelled out in a foreign language dripping from every telephone receiver and receiving an American reply to soothe the foreign breast You are welcome, sir. Doesn't cost a cent. He marvels: the fingers of the black nurse on duty are like the velvet pads where Mother kepther needles a sweet velvet pad like chocolate- She looks at him but sees nothing: Your pulse is fine, sir. Thank you. You're welcome. Excerpted from Sloan Kettering by Abba Kovner All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.