Nathaniel Whittemore DEATH AND TACOS

Waiting in line at a taco stand for my number to be called
I started talking to a six-year-old kid kicking his little foot against
A curb and waiting for his dad to come out of the bathroom.
And he said, “Why do you cough so much?”
And I said, “Because I have cancer.”
And he said, “Bummer.”
And I said, “Yep.”
And he said, “Does it hurt?”
And I said, “Only when I breathe.”
And he said, “Why don’t you hold your breath?”
And I puffed out my cheeks like Louis Armstrong and
Let him see it and held it for as long as I could
Before exploding into a hacking eruption of
Stupid sounds and saliva.
And he laughed.
And I coughed and laughed.
And he said, “Feel better?”
And I said, “A bit.”
And I showed him how much better with my
Thumb and index finger. And pointed at a green thread
of mucous that had dribbled out onto my chin
He said, “Gross.” And wiping it off
I said, “Yep.”
And he said, “My granddaddy had cancer before he died on the hospital.”
And I said, “You mean in the hospital?”
And he said, “Yeah on the hospital.”
And I said, “Oh, yeah?”
And he said, “He used to give me candy all of the times I ever saw him.”
And I said, “Sorry kid, I don’t have any candy.”
And, deflated, he said, “Are you gonna die on the hospital?”
And I said, “You mean in the hospital?”
And he said, “Yea, are you gonna die on the hospital?”
And I said, “Probably.”
And he said, “OK.”
And, upon giving that gracious consent, the boy’s dad came out and
The boy said, “Well, bye!” And I said, “See ya.”
And he ran off.
And, for a while, between the two of us,
Dying became so very ordinary, like candy or tacos or semantics,
And death itself suddenly just this obnoxious third-wheel
A pitiful nuisance with nothing better to do with his time
Than to tag along with me and this six-year-old kid.
And I sat smiling in the sun and imagining death at the moment,
A sad sack of lonely-self slumped somewhere in the distance,
As I waited for my number to come up.

–from Rattle #29, Summer 2008

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