Rick Hartwell

Posted on August 20, 2012


The Hospice

The slate-grey sheet of morning lies like a pallor of sickness over my day, stifling the dawn. It broods on the horizon without substance, not fog, nor mist, and not yet the palest of blue as sky, tuning up for later day. This is the dawn of innumerable childhood days, beginningless, endless. It is as if the background of existence has been withdrawn, or not yet revealed, in order to focus my thoughts on the immediate.

As a young boy, my immediate was composed of surfing and sailing and fishing, activities of the water and not of its sister, the sky. I would look up and judge the tenor of the coming day and, passing judgment, would sometimes alter my plans to parallel the external world. This was usually a re-funneling, a reshaping, and not a renunciation of the day.

I’m fast being overwhelmed by the grey shadows of hospice. I feel eaten alive by their encroaching demands, not one limb at a time and piece by piece, but from the inside out; a gnawing persistence, resistant only to my un-screamed pleas for peace and an end to despair. We pair, dying and dead, dead, but not yet departed; we hold sway with light conversation, quick and cute banter to forestall the edges of the shadows and pain; a bouncy badinage which sometimes turns to spitefulness — accusations and recriminations, a drugged and guileless guilt, responsive only to the recourse of shunning.

I emigrate to the waiting room, festooned with the celebratory colors of life, but even these are reminders of passage as they change from wreaths and wrappings, Auld Lang Syne, cupids, and shamrocks and lilies, mayflowers, fireworks, pencils and tablets, turkeys and cornucopias, and back again to cut trees and greedy kids.

Greed also waits in this anteroom, misnamed so because “Exit Room” denotes a too complete finality towards which only the visitors look with smiles.

This slate-grey, unbroken dawn encloses many in our cocoons of self-doubt and self-pity. We remain enmeshed, enmeshed inside of our warrens and inside of ourselves. Rather, we should give of ourselves to the day; focus on what is discernible; look around and see what is born every day and what dies every night in the shadows. The dawn merely presages dusk, cyclic redundancies that await our sentient involvement and intervention, not just our observation.

I must be like a cat in this night of shadows; I must see through this grey, swirl it with my subjective self and make it the easel on which I display my dreams with the palette and paints of my imagination.


Rick Hartwell is a retired middle school (remember, the hormonially-challenged?) English teacher living in Moreno Valley, California, with his wife of thirty-six years (poor soul, her, not him), their disabled daughter, one of their sons and his ex-wife and their two children, and twelve cats. Yes, twelve! He believes in the succinct, that the small becomes large; and, like the Transcendentalists and William Blake, that the instant contains eternity. Given his “druthers,” if he’s not writing poetry, Rick would rather still be tailing plywood in a mill in Oregon.

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