In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Manoa 14.1 (2002) 65-67

[Access article in PDF]

Coded Message

John Mckernan


I believe

That my father
In his dying

Prowled the corridors
Of Saint Joseph's Hospital
Looking for stained glass

Searching particularly
For a sword of white light
Next to a wide curve
Of cobalt blue

Those were Mary's colors
& the colors
Of a palomino
On a high ridge
Against the sky in West Omaha


On that thin white sheet

My father never gave up his dying
He gave up the deep tan of his hands

He gave up the images
Of his house on Cass Street
Deep in the skull under his blue eyelids [End Page 65]
Some mornings
He seemed
To give up his breath
To the shivers

When a quiet nun entered his room &
Threaded a rosary about his fingers
Until the silver-threaded locust beans
Would slide to a white tile floor      A tiny
Jesus bouncing in the glow on sun-washed wax


On that thin white sheet

My father kept trying
To leave his body on Earth

He tried to leave
Through the thick grooves
Of those Irish toenails

He tried to leave
Through hidden wisdom teeth
Then through two front teeth
With their pain-filled silver helmets

At the end He kept trying
To float up the IV drip Past
The iced needles of insulin      Into
The calm syllables of coma
Whispering his name in a new language [End Page 66]


Months later I walked miles in snow

To the hospital & sat
In a chair in that corner

Staring for hours
Toward a bright white wall
Bleached by sunlight

I stared even longer
At the sheet
Tight    Flat    White    Taut
Speechless as a sun-rinsed cloud

I was
Quiet as floor shadow
Silent as a quart of black paint
Still as a bottle of India ink
I have never left that room Not once


John McKernan has recently published poems in West Branch, Georgia Review, and Paris Review.



Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 65-67
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.