A Wish

I wanted to give you something for your pain.
But not the drug du jour
or the kind word this side of cliché.
Something you wouldn’t find on a talk show,
in a department store or dark alleyway.
I wanted to give you something for your pain
but I couldn’t imagine what.
Frankincense, myrrh—even gold
seemed too plain (too plain and too gross).
I needed something that wouldn’t have occurred
to you or me, or even Nature: a creature
more fabulous, more imaginary
than you’d find in a rain forest or tapestry
or pixel-loaded screen. Some exotic anodyne
an alchemist or astrophysicist
would be envious of: a chemical reaction,
an astral refraction, an out-of-body,
out-of-mind, one-of-a-kind
transport from your pain, that would last
longer than a day, go deeper than the past.
I would have founded a whole new religion
if I thought that would suffice.
As for love—sacred, profane, or both—
I wanted to give you something
that didn’t arrive with a roll of the dice
and was hard to maintain and had a knack
for disappointing. I wanted to give you
something for your pain that didn’t smack
of a sorcerer’s trick, or a poet’s swoon,
or a psychiatrist’s quip. Nothing too heavy
or spacey or glib. I’d have given you the moon
but it’s been done (and besides, its desolate dust
and relentless tendency to wane
might have only exacerbated your pain).
If I could have given you something
you could depend on, could always trust
without a second thought, I would have.
A splendid view, perhaps, or a strain
of music. A favorite dish. A familiar tree.
A visit from a genie who, in lieu of granting you
a wish, would tend subtly to your every need,
and never once tire, never complain.
But when all was said and done
(or hardly said, not nearly done)
I was as helpless as you. Could you tell—
or were you so overcome your pain was all
that mattered? It seemed to me we were a kind
of kin: willing the mind its bold suspensions,
but the heart, once shattered, never quite matching
its old dimensions. And yet you persevered
in spite of pain, you knew to hold hope
as lightly as you held my hand (a phantom grasp,
a clasp that seemed to come from the other side).
And your genial smile made it plain: you were pleased
by my wish to please. And then you died.

Thomas Centolella, "A Wish" from Views from along the Middle Way.  Copyright © 2002 by Thomas Centolella.  Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: Views from along the Middle Way (Copper Canyon Press, 2002)
More Poems by Thomas Centolella