A few years ago when my boys were younger, I got hit hard with the flu. It was terrible, but because my husband works out of town during the week, I knew I still had to do the basics: feed the kids, get them to school, make sure they didn’t burn the house down. I parked it on the family room couch for the better part of a week, only getting up when absolutely necessary. I would set out food for the kids, throw an occasional load in the washer, and retreat to my sad pile of blankets and used tissues.
At one point my son, who was six at the time, passed by my listless form on the couch. He eyed me warily and finally inquired, “Mom?” He gestured to the detritus littering the couch and ottoman, “Why are you being so lazy?”
He wasn’t being malicious. He just wasn’t used to seeing me sit so much. I’m certain he hadn’t ever been asked to forage in the pantry for dinner, much less eat cereal at night. And when I did get sick, he was accustomed to me carrying on as usual. But this was Influenza A and I was down for the count. Still, I would like to point out that despite being truly ill, I was still doing what moms everywhere do when they are sick; I was getting it done.
Remember the movie Four Weddings & a Funeral? The scene where Matthew reads the eulogy for his lover, Gareth, reciting the W.H. Auden poem, Funeral Blues has always been one of my favorites, and the poem has stuck with me over the years.
Notably, it comes to mind when my beloved comes down with
an insufferable death plague a cold. I’m not saying the propensity to exaggerate like a giant baby play it up while sick is reserved solely for men. But the four men in my family all seem to share a similar trait when ill, and the three women do not. Whether it’s a head cold or a resurgence of Black Death, they take to their beds and only feebly manage their requests for hot soup and the family iPad. I’m made most acutely aware of this when I, too, have the same virus that has afflicted the men in my house. Make of that what you will. Since this winter has been especially brutal, I have penned my own poem as both an homage to W. H. Auden and of course, the man cold. I’m hoping some of you will appreciate this; if you sense it is a tad sexist, please forgive me and mentally substitute woman for man in your mind as you read. And no, I am not rolling my eyes in the back of my head as I type this. Not at all.
An Ode to the Man Cold
Stop all the clocks, cut off the internet.
Prevent the children from making too much noise by putting on Spongebob.
Tell me, sweet man, what vexes you?
A noxious plague has felled our mighty sequoia.
Let your Facebook status moan
Scribbling the message: “He feels as if he is dead!”
Put a cool rag on his face, draw the blinds and find the Netflix login
His skin burns with the heat of a thousand suns. No, wait.
Whipsawed! Heat and ice!
Out vile scourge!
Like Job, you are tested in a way most cannot fathom.
Perhaps your suffering is so that we,
who also “claim” to suffer the same malady,
might not have to swim in the lake of fire as you do now.
Or perhaps we jest.
Of course. Your trial, unendurable. Ours, a manifest of womanly hysteria.
(You are still strong enough to offer the cure for this)
A voice, through the layers of muck in your mind taunts you.
‘Hell is empty, and all the devils are here!’
See, you have not lost your mirth.
Even if your untimely demise looms, you are not to be conquered.
Your throat, stabbed by a million tiny razors.
A mere mortal might be quieted – muted – by such agony but you manage, softly.
Bring me some soup. And those crackers I like. Not the whole grain.