I’ve been writing about a band called The Weakerthans for Paste Magazine. If you don’t know them, you should check them out. They play loud rock ‘n roll, and they have a lead singer/songwriter who sneers like a punk but who has the heart of a romantic poet. His name is John K. Samson, and I love his songs.
I used to play one of his songs, called “Hospital Vespers,” around the time when my brother-in-law was dying of cancer. Samson’s songs used to be filled with F Bombs, little verbal tantrums that got old pretty quickly. Then, impossibly, he became a great songwriter, and he started writing poetry. But he’s still tossing F bombs, even if he doesn’t use the precise words. “Hospital Vespers” is an upraised middle finger to death, and the impersonal way people die in our culture, and it’s one of the most humane, compassionate songs I’ve ever heard. I thought about it when I thought about my brother-in-law. Now I think about it because I’ve just written about the band, and because several friends are currently going through the same thoughts and emotions I went through a few years ago. I hate death, so I pray for healing, and I believe that God can and does still work in those ways. But if He doesn’t, then I pray for humanity, for decency, for something like a death that respects and honors the individual.
In any event, “Hospital Vespers” goes like this:
Doctors played your dosage like a card trick.
Scrabbled down the hallways yelling Yahtzee.
I brought books on Hopper, and the Arctic,
something called "The Politics Of Lonely,"
a toothbrush and a quick-pick with the plus.
You tried not to roll your sunken eyes and said
"Hey can you help me, I can't reach it."
Pointed at the camera in the ceiling.
I climbed up, blocked it so they couldn't see.
Turned to find you out of bed, and kneeling.
Before the nurses came, took you away,
I stood there on a chair and watched you pray.
What can be said in these times? “Words, words, words,” Hamlet said. They’re all I have, and they don’t help. But if I could, my friends, I would stand on a chair and block the camera. It’s the least I can do.