Progressive Health

By Carl Dennis b. 1939 Carl Dennis
We here at Progressive Health would like to thank you   
For being one of the generous few who've promised   
To bequeath your vital organs to whoever needs them.   

Now we'd like to give you the opportunity   
To step out far in front of the other donors   
By acting a little sooner than you expected,   

Tomorrow, to be precise, the day you're scheduled   
To come in for your yearly physical. Six patients   
Are waiting this very minute in intensive care   

Who will likely die before another liver   
And spleen and pairs of lungs and kidneys   
Match theirs as closely as yours do. Twenty years,   

Maybe more, are left you, granted, but the gain   
Of these patients might total more than a century.   
To you, of course, one year of your life means more   

Than six of theirs, but to no one else,   
No one as concerned with the general welfare   
As you've claimed to be. As for your poems—

The few you may have it in you to finish—
Even if we don't judge them by those you've written,   
Even if we assume you finally stage a breakthrough,   

It's doubtful they'll raise one Lazarus from a grave   
Metaphoric or literal. But your body is guaranteed   
To work six wonders. As for the gaps you'll leave   

As an aging bachelor in the life of friends,   
They'll close far sooner than the open wounds   
Soon to be left in the hearts of husbands and wives,   

Parents and children, by the death of the six   
Who now are failing. Just imagine how grateful   
They'll all be when they hear of your grand gesture.   

Summer and winter they'll visit your grave, in shifts,   
For as long as they live, and stoop to tend it,   
And leave it adorned with flowers or holly wreaths,   

While your friends, who are just as forgetful   
As you are, just as liable to be distracted,   
Will do no more than a makeshift job of upkeep.   

If the people you'll see tomorrow pacing the halls   
Of our crowded facility don't move you enough,   
They'll make you at least uneasy. No happy future   

Is likely in store for a man like you whose conscience   
Will ask him to certify every hour from now on   
Six times as full as it was before, your work   

Six times as strenuous, your walks in the woods   
Six times as restorative as anyone else's.   
Why be a drudge, staggering to the end of your life   

Under this crushing burden when, with a single word,   
You could be a god, one of the few gods   
Who, when called on, really listens?

Source: Poetry (May 2001).


This poem originally appeared in the May 2001 issue of Poetry magazine

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May 2001
 Carl  Dennis


Carl Dennis was born in 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned a BA from the University of Minnesota and a PhD from the University of California-Berkeley. He has taught at the State University of New York-Buffalo since 1966, where he is both a professor of English and writer in residence. Dennis has published numerous books of poetry, including House of My Own (1974), The Outskirts of Troy (1988), Meetings with Time (1992), . . .

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