The narrator is a young woman who takes a job as a nurse's aid on an oncology ward. Calvin is a difficult patient - a black man pre Civil Rights. He has colon cancer. He is still hungry, in the literal and metaphorical. He has two huge wives, one black, one white who guard his room. They are loud and gaudy. N is scrawny, timid and raw. Calvin does not intend to bow to the white man nor does he intend to go gentle into that good night. On the other hand, he has his delicacies. He says f---ing.
Like Lucifer, Calvin was a troublingly complex/antihero-a horrible person in many ways, stubbornly stupid,/had abused his nurses and cursed the doctors, refusing/the surgery that might have prolonged-or saved-his life./He wouldn't be unmanned, he said, shitting in a bag. No f---ing way.
still whined for pussy, porno mags,/and chicken fried in bacon grease. A third-year resident,/Harvard, M.D., wrote an order for the supper Calvin thought/ he craved: mashed potatoes and buttered bread, a chicken-battered/ deep-fried steak. Beaming, our man consumed it while his doctor lingered /outside his door to await the inevitable result of the natural process/
and then there's this
Night after night, wrist deep in the tepid water I bathed him with,/I stood at the bedside and tried to change him from hot to cool/and listened to him discourse maniacally on the mysteries of gender:/born again, he'd be a woman in slick red panties, a streetwalking/whore in high-heeled sandals and torn, black hose, opening his legs/for paper money, filling his purse with bucks to spend./How anyone was granted a life like that he could never comprehend.
and especially this
At the end, cupping his withered, hairless testicles/in my cool, white palm because he asked me to, it wasn't anything/like witnessing a death. More like the birth of a new world, really,/he was entering alone.
And that isn't the end. Daniel's treads in all the uncomfortable places. I can't say that all of her poems were well done and I will get to some of those, later, but when she nails a poem, she nails them well and truly and these first two are prime examples.