There is Nothing, Except by Ray Shea


It’s October now and the rocks are bleeding
and I don’t know if my father is dying.
This image, it should be fraught
with heartbreak, metaphor, connotation:
a hemorrhage of the earth,
a slaughter of the rock.
But it’s just autumn in New Hampshire
and the leaves on the cliffs
are seasonally red.

It’s October, anyway, and at least
my father is no longer
shitting blood.

It was June when they put
a scope down his throat
and he bled more.

It was June when they put
a scope up his ass
and he bled more.

Blood came out of him
faster than they could
put it back in,
blood going in,
coming out, coming out,
air not going anywhere at all.

It was June when I haunted the hospital anterooms
paced the night shift surgical basements
in my stupid Red Sox hoodie,
in my stupid backpack,
with my stupid laptop,
and my stupid power of attorney,
and my stupid rescue hero complex.

The nurse said you know he is a very sick man.
The nurse said you know he is going to die.
The nurse said you know you are just a little boy.
The nurse said you know these doors will swing wide.


It’s December now and the icefalls
spill down the cliffs
out of sight of the sun
all winter long.

Thirty years of four packs a day in
a two bedroom apartment.
The movers emptied it in an hour.
I got three small boxes of anything
anybody would want.

At the nursing home the Cub Scouts
sang carols for the obsoletes.
My father hid out in his room,
wrestled the wheelchair,
heaved a breath, told me to go,
heaved another, hurled it at the TV.

New snow covered the afternoon’s tracks.
The cub scouts sang
O Holy Night.

The snow on my coat.
The light in his window.
Joyce could maybe work with this.

Fall on your knees.
Falling upon every part of the universe.
A creature driven and derided.

The snow obscuring what is road,
what is shoulder,
what is forest,

O night divine.


Now tumors, metastasized,
from the Greek, meta stasis,
“next placement”,
meaning spine,
meaning hips,
meaning femurs.

Next placement,
meaning he can’t
live here any more,
with catheters,
with oxygen,
with radiology,
or radiation
(he can’t remember which)
and with radical orchidectomy,
which is not nearly
as vaginal as
it sounds.

Metastatic sounds like
static about static,
about static machines that beep and hiss
and get plugged in when your back is turned,
so that you have to unplug them again.

You have to repeat:
Do not resuscitate.
Do not hospitalize.
Do not intubate.
Do not disturb.
Do not stare into laser with remaining eye.
Do not ever ever shake a baby.
Do not run from me when I’m talking to you.
Do not let him in my room again, he’s not my fucking son any more.
Do not play in or around the dumpster,
or the biowaste disposal,
or the crematorium.


Another December now
and the icefalls shine
like gold for a brief instant
at sunrise but only if you’re
awake to see them.

Eighteen months in assisted living.
The movers emptied it in fifteen minutes.
I got one box of anything
nobody will want.

The last day we got the
two way combo with haddock
and clams, french fries
and cole slaw,
three Kit Kat bars,
ativan and morphine.

I called him from Brooklyn,
Fifth Avenue, Park Slope,
standing on the street,
dumpster blocking the wind
Freedom Tower spiking the wintercast sky.

He said he felt great.
I told him we’ll talk Tuesday.

What I meant was I’ll talk Tuesday,
while the nurse holds
the phone to your ear,
and you croak last instructions
I can’t hear, about
the things in your nightstand, about
the things for your grandkids.
I promise I’ll see you tonight,
I promise I’ll get there.
I love you dad.
You did real good, dad.


At midnight the roads were ice
and he was cold
and he was gone
and he smelled nice with
his hair all combed
and his favorite blanket
pulled up to his chin.

He hissed and gurgled
when I hugged him big
across his shrunken chest.
He sounded like
a finished Coke can
the way it makes those
last fizzy pops so that
you want to shake it to see
if anything is left.

It took all morning to empty his room
and two days to sort it all,
to shrink it down
to a shoebox full of things
nobody but me would ever want,
and a TSA-approved urn,
and a flag for his service to my country,
and his favorite blanket covered in lighthouses.


Kubler-Ross got this all wrong.
There are only two stages:
anger, and nothing.

There is no denial, no bargaining,
no depression, no acceptance.
There is nothing.

Time heals all nothing.

So sorry for your nothing.

He went to a better nothing.

There is nothing,
except that I
am next.




Ray Shea‘s writing has appeared most recently in The Rumpus, Hobart, Fourteen Hills, and The Collapsar. A native of Boston and New Orleans, he currently lives in Austin.


One response to “There is Nothing, Except by Ray Shea”

  1. Amy says:

    I finished reading this fifteen minutes ago. I’m still sitting here, staring at my laptop into what that poem gave. My chest hurts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *