I met James Nave 25 years ago while working on a story for NPR. He was a whirlwind of energy, performing poems out loud in grade schools in his hometown of Asheville, N.C. He went on to perform all over the world, from La Paz to Paris to the Philippines.
For Nave, it was all about poetry and travel, freedom and creativity. He co-founded a workshop, The Writing Salon, and taught creativity workshops. Then wham — he made an all-too-common midlife discovery: health issues. He had prostate cancer — the big mento mori ("remember your mortality") moment.
He confronted the disease the best way he knew how — with words. He vowed to write a poem a day for the hundred days following his surgery. He wrote this one on April 1:
Slumber After Surgery
I am still whole, so little has gone from my body.
Sitting up after a night of going in and out
of who I am, I relish this plain hospital room.
TV turned off, clock ticking on the wall,
11:30 in the morning, curtain hanging to block
the door. No wind in this room, not even a breeze.
Still smooth air coats everything.
I had no dreams last night. Instead, I floated in
and out of morphine sleep. In the night, I felt
a coin in my hand. Or was it a round door
to another world? I was warm all night long
and felt no pain. She slept beside me in a chair.
We could have been sailing somewhere on
a placid sea. I gave myself over to being loved
and that is a miracle all human beings deserve.
I was surrounded by light. The coin I thought
I had in my hand was an entry to another dimension.
I ate ice all night, crunched between my teeth.
Somewhere in the wee early hours, a stream
of radio from my computer. What a strange,
strange thing it is to live and to breathe,
to feel your lips so dry all you want is ice.
In the end, it is important to believe in everything
because everything is all we have. Then, when you
believe in everything and embrace the entire world,
there is nothing left except grace