Sitting here

Shalamar Sibley
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States (Spring 2011)

 

Poet’s statement: This poem was written after a day in the clinic. I will let it speak for itself, except to note that the opening quote is from a poem written by a mentor I had at the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference who has passed on. The poem becomes a dialogue or response to the lines of his work.

What you see in his face in the last
photograph, when ALS had whittled
his body to fit a wheelchair, is how much
stark work it took to fend death off, and fail.
—from “Mingus in Shadow” by William Matthews

 

<align=”center”>Chair Todd Hochberg Chromogenic print 6”x 9”

 

Sitting here

You there, facing me, are looking
for a way to outsmart time but
time will not be overshadowed,
minutes, hours, and days collecting
as dust on these bookshelves, clinging

in the face of the stifled breeze
attempting to part those curtains.

Your hands are withered with worry.
I pat you on the shoulder,
think of soft, anemic platitudes,
comforting constructs for useful purposes.
Ah, give you another pill!

“Why so sad?” I finally ask silently,
not daring to give this moment
the weight of my voice,
knowing you stroke my fear
as you brush a speck from your shirt.
For, as we can easily see,
you and I are each a scaffold
of bone draped in artery, muscle,
and vein, imagining itself to be
somehow static like a guidepost,
a solid center of the universe.

So if I do see my eyes in your face,
don’t let me look away,
too frail to see that your thoughts
are inhabiting my words,
for the two of us bound together must
somehow come to grips with this abrasion,
this malady, this nasty little scrape
that sorely reminds us of what we are
and what we are not,
you—good friend, best teacher—and I,
sitting here in these chairs.

 


 

SHALAMAR SIBLEY, MD, MPH is a member of the Division of Adult Diabetes and Endocrinology at the University of Minnesota where she teaches, cares for patients, and engages in clinical and translational research related to obesity and metabolic syndrome. Having been an avid writer before and during undergraduate school, she is again finding time for creative writing. She appreciates the multi-leveled potential for cross-fertilization that can occur when scientists and physicians pick up the pen and do something completely different.

 

About the photographer

TODD HOCHBERG is a documentary photographer who works in conjunction with hospital bereavement programs, palliative care programs, hospices, and directly with individuals. He makes documentary photographs and legacy video for individuals and families who are struggling with end-of-life transitions. His work resides in the permanent collection of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography. He was a finalist in the W. Eugene Smith Grant Competition in Humanistic Photography in 2003. He also had a solo exhibition at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in 2009. Visit his website at www.momentsheld.org.

Photographer’s statement: Legacy work is a personal, emotional, and spiritual exploration of one’s place during the time of a life transition rather than merely a chronological recall of life events. Through documentary photography and video, I help individuals and families who are struggling with a serious illness or death of a loved one. The resultant images offer a gentle link to memories of significant loving relationships and precious experiences, which may contribute to emotional healing.