in memoriam Paul Otremba
One must be trained to locate it. One finds it
by finding the Lion first and then the Brothers.
The faintest of the 13 signs in the night sky,
we have learned to see it by discerning what flanks it.
You were right that evening in Vermont to say
it doesn’t even look like a crab. I joked it looked
more like an upside-down Y, more like the Greek
λ, a symbol which, for me, had more to do with
radioactivity calculations used in radiation therapy.
I was showing off, you see, making sure I would be seen
as a doctor as well as a writer. But by then we were
already close enough for you to forgive my arrogance.
But your question came quickly: How do you do it
every day? All those people with cancer … We stared
at the stars, and I recounted a sordid story
about an old poet we admired. The stars,
the resulting story, and your laughter: the things
memory made indelible. You knew it was the veins
spreading out in a solid tumor seen when cut and examined
that reminded Hippocrates of the crab, something
far less poetic than the stars seen in the night sky,
but that is how you chose to think about it. And because
oncologists always think of cancer, I purposely chose
to think of reflux when, over lunch two years ago, you
kept coughing, kept choking. Later, you told me
that as you lay in the scanner you loved the idea of light
passing through you, photons used to look inside your chest.
Even then, you chose the poetic. Your greatest fear
was that the biopsy might discover an ulcer leading to
restrictions on fine food and wine. Instead, they found the crab.
You were born under the sign of the scorpion, but I
always saw you as a Lion. A brother, I assumed you were safely
distanced from the crab. Let the light pass through you now.
Not the photons we manipulate for Medicine,
but the starlight that has traveled with us for millennia.
We need not look for the Lion or the Brothers anymore.
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