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

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

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

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)
More Poems by Alan R. Shapiro