Scree

By Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952
Long scree of pill bottles
         spilling over the tipped brim   
of the wicker basket, fifty or more,   
         a hundred,

your name on every one and under
         your name the brusque rune of instructions—
which ones to take, how many, and often,
         on what days,

with or without food, before or
         after eating, impossible
toward the end to keep them all straight,   
         not even

with your charts, your calendars, the bottles   
         ranged in sequence along the kitchen   
counter—you always so
         efficient,

organized, never without a plan,
         even when planning had come down   
to this and nothing more, for there was   
         still a future

in it, though the future reached
         only from one bottle to
the next, from pill to pill, each one
         another

toehold giving way
         beneath you on the steep slope   
you never stopped struggling against,   
         unable not

to climb, and then, when climbing
         was impossible, not to try slowing   
the quickening descent. You had
         descended now,

your body thinned to the machine
         of holding on, while I exhausted   
by the vigil, with all your medicine
         spread before me,

looked for something, anything
         at all to help me sleep.   
To help me for a short while anyway
         not be

aware of you, your gaunt hand
         clutching the guardrail, your eyes   
blind, flitting, scanning, it seemed,   
         the air above them

for their own sight, and the whimper   
         far back in the throat, the barely   
audible continuous
         half-cry half-

wheeze I couldn’t hear and not think
         you were saying something, though   
I couldn’t make out what. I wanted
         to sleep,

I wanted if just for that one night
         to meet you there on that steep slope,   
the two of us together, facing
         opposite

directions, I, because I wasn’t
         dying, looking down, desiring   
what you, still looking up, resisted,   
         because you were.

Alan Shapiro, “Scree” from The Dead Alive and Busy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000). Copyright © 2000 by Alan Shapiro. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: The Dead Alive and Busy (The University of Chicago Press, 2000)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Health & Illness, Growing Old, Death, Living, Relationships

 Alan R. Shapiro

Biography

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Alan Shapiro was educated at Brandeis University. As the author of numerous collections of poetry, Shapiro has explored family, loss, domesticity, and the daily aspects of people’s lives in free verse and traditional poetic forms. He has published over ten books of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel (2014); Night of the Republic (2012), a finalist for the National Book Award and the Griffin Prize; . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Health & Illness, Growing Old, Death, Living, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.