Rob Cook

Illnesses Learned at Langone



A liver by itself in the corner of the room, on its back, waving its confused cilia, listening.

(Or curdling into a cushion of shunts and lesions,
capable of recognizing sunlight.)

I keep thinking it needs to be swaddled.

But like the wind when it leaves my hand, (which is really just the stillness of the room) its one tentacle does not cringe or darken with moonlight when I try to touch it.

And no matter what treatment I endured, I woke more than once in a bed the dogs had lost. The light, false from there, pushed past a rip in the curtain, and though the doctors believe nothing, I swear that the breeze, no heavier than moths trapped at the speed of dust, made the curtain blush.

And on a different day, I woke up gripping my swollen pillow, and it hurt. I listened to the roses flattened beneath a repeating car alarm and my eyes drifted away, to Brooklyn, where, from the ocean floor of a rainy day, Maya Hebert told me the subways were faster and taller and carried the sick back to the days of good health, and then the sky (where it was blue) drifted away as well, leaving me to endure the nurses, who created more, cared more, and spoke with me more than the doctors ever did.

Not doctors anymore, but a flock of black shoes                          approaching in murmurs

before the hissing of the mourning doves.


The biopsy of a bus’s broken bones tells the doctors one thing: Someone will be late. The shoe biopsy tells each person within wincing range that he or she is nowhere. The biopsy of the window reveals, as before, unconscious Manhattan. The belt buckle biopsy suggests more tissue will be needed. (Somewhere, because of this, a woman—or a man thinking about himself—might feel a little closer to a long life.) The biopsy of my shadow betrays an inflammation among the twitching wallpaper. The pathologist’s report of that floral inflammation: “We can cure you with paint from a living donor.” They cannot biopsy the cries of my liver, though, which lurk on the scalpel’s one wall like the terror of a scattered child.


Diagnosis: the patient’s imagination, which protected him for many years, finally turned against him.

The patient went on a rant during last week’s appointment with his hepatologist. It was by far his only decent story.

And though what he said about the doctor was true, the words he chose made it no longer true.

Sensing this, the patient said terrible things to another one of his pieces, and except for the puddle of words thrown onto the floor, he was not heard from again.


The sunlight searched his apartment one last time and found a sheaf of phone numbers with the following:

Tracking my closest physicians, I climbed to the top of an infected goose bump. (The altitude seemed greater than the heavens.) From there I mapped my cirrhotic terrain and fell, shattering into a thousand pebbles. (The shattering ended only after 25 years.) Now I attend the school of the disappearance of the classroom. It is there I keep getting attacked by the poems of great square dance generators capable of surviving beyond joy and its many rigors. Even knowing the risks, I can still talk about what is eaten before a page ends on Swans Island. I can still sing to the Imuran inhabiting the lymph nodes in my favorite poem. And from that final glimpse, I can show you where my liver sleeps without skin on the straw floor of the moon.

Rob Cook's latest book is Last Window in the Punk Hotel (Rain Mountain, 2016). He is currently working on a novella that features two first person female narrators, and a nonfiction book entitled The Descent that Began at Bellevue