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Philip Terman

A good friend just passed away from the virus. I participated in a Zoom farewell with his family—he was also on the zoom on his ventilator. He had been on the ventilator for two weeks but just got worse—as most people do.  Each of us said goodbye to him, hoping he could hear, and then the rabbi said the last prayer.  

After the zoom session was over, the doctor removed the ventilator.

Very sad.

Here is the poem I wrote for my friend who was taken off the ventilator. It is my response to the questionnaire.

Early morning, the only two up,

me writing on the couch, Artie

coming down the stairs and looking

for his keys: I’m off to get some bagels,

and I want to come along,

he insisting I need’nt,--

stay in, it’s cold, you’re writing,

why should you schlep?

I insisting I wanted to,

and it went on like this,

two old Jewish knockers—

but he was twenty years older—

this tug of war we do, --

I want to go, no, stay, I’ll be right back—

like those ancient men

at the corner table

at Corky and Lenny’s Delicatessen,

kvetching all morning into the afternoon

because kibitzing is the way

they choose to spend

their remaining time on this earth.

And Artie was one of those—

he loved to lay on the couch

and watch his beloved Mets

and, after Susan asked him to,

would refuse to remove his shoes

why should I? ---and so

we drove to Balthazar,

that synagogue of Bakeries,

and he parked in front

of a no-parking sign—

and when I pointed it out:

let them arrest me!

If they’ve got nothing better to do!

and when we arrived back

at the house they were all up

and hungry and Artie, laughing:

We did it! We got the bagels!

Who were we to each other,

Artie?  is what I’d ask him—

I’m the schlemiel, he might say,

who dated your sister-in-law

after your brother died—

ten years already—and

there was such a warmth--

the word in Yiddish: heymish

“comfortable, familiar, cozy”

in his presence I forgot

he wasn’t another brother—

yes! he said again: We did it!

Phil and I! We got the bagels!

On the ventilator for two weeks,

the call from Susan:

they’re taking him off---

and a small window for each of us,

including Artie, on his hospital bemasked like an alien,

the rabbi reciting the blessing:

the confession before departing

from this world, bringing atonement.

It should be recited with a clear mind.

Did Artie have a clear mind?

If you cannot speak,

it may be said in your heart.

Could Artie say it in his heart?

It can be recited by both men and women.

Artie was a mensch.

On any day, even on the Shabbat.

It was on any day, a Thursday.

If a person’s children are present—

Artie’s children were present—

you should exhort them to follow the Torah.

Artie, did you exhort them to follow the Torah?

One should not leave you alone.

Artie, we said, in our broken words, farewell,

Did you hear us?

And, at the last moment,

all of us in our little windows,

including you, Artie—we sang

The Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

And we thanked the doctor and nurses. Each of us.

poet USA