Punch Line

Two interns stood outside
my brother’s hospital room
and thrust words at us
in ill-practiced affectation.
“He—is—dead.”
Laughter, as they turned down the hall.

Just before,
visitors crowded around pizza
delivered for strong appetites.
Hours passed.

To manage an uncontrollable nose-bleed,
we stuck half-tampons up his nostrils—the strings
cut off so it didn’t look like we were facing some gal,
ass heavenward.

We wished his ass heavenward,
anxious for relief.

A final gasp, then someone
suctioned his airway; someone else
told him to stop.
There was peace.

We wept bedside, touching the body
(courage equals love),
described his entrance in Heaven
as the arrival of someone in charge.

Sniffles eased; it was time to tell an authority.
The interns on-call excused us from the room,
then appeared in the hall to deliver news
we’d given them:
      “He is dead.”

I returned to another brother’s house;
met my mother at the door with hugs.
Ten minutes later, I’m at the all-night 7-Eleven,
buying tampons:
      the unexpected had happened.

Still alive.

—Nancy Whitecar


Editor’s note: The poem is about Nancy’s brother, Robert (Bob) Adams, whose life was shortened by AIDS. He worked tirelessly for the city of Chicago, Illinois, to assure the LGBTQ community had a voice and was cared for. A biography of Bob is available here: http://chicagolgbthalloffame.org/adams-robert/.


Nancy Whitecar is a professional pianist and music teacher living in the Bay Area, California, who is making publication of her writing her third act. Her short stories have appeared in The MacGuffin and Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. Her poem “Mighty Asian Woman” recently appeared in Stick Figure online poetry. She’s listening to jazz or Beethoven at home when she’s not hiking and camping with her husband.