Clark’s predominant impressions of the experience involved imagery of a mythological underworld. He elaborates: “I was taken, at various points, down into hospital corridors in the basement. I began to notice that all the terminology in medicine is Greek based, like the names of characters out of Greek mythology. My mind would pick up on cues very easily and then run with them. I was very amused by it. I kept having the feeling that I was in some kind of after-death experience that, had you gone digging in some old hieroglyphic papyri, you would find the details of it. That feeling persisted for rather a while. I remember thinking afterward, in terms of advice for others: it’s good to fill your mind with interesting stuff, read the classics, because you never know when you might find yourself flat on your back on a gurney with a lot of events flowing by you. I felt well served by it.
“What I hadn’t been aware of, or maybe prepared for, was that there was this whole other experiential, spiritual aspect to this transplant thing that accompanied it, triggered it. I really had never talked to anyone who had discussed this aspect of it. It’s a very powerful experience, still going on here more than a month later, still manifest. It is, in fact, a journey to the underworld. The liver, to the Greeks, was the seat of the soul, not the heart, like we talk about today as a kind of metaphor of our being. Now we know it’s just kind of a pump. But to the Greeks, it was the liver. I seem to remember that Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind in Greco-Roman mythology, was punished by being chained to a rock, and every day vultures would tear out his liver. Then it would grow back, and he would experience this tremendous pain every day.
“So, I thought I was not prepared for this experience, but I had been really preparing for it my whole life. Being wheeled around on gurneys in the underground of this hospital had such mythological associations. I was just flooded by religious imagery. It was the crescendo of epiphany.”
During this time, Clark wrote poetry, including one “very Japanese or Zen-inspired poem of blank verse. I had been reading a lot of Japanese and Chinese poets, and they were an influence on what I was doing. Having a transplant is like diving off of a high board: you’re either in or you’re out. Once you jump off the end of the board, you’re in, there are no second thoughts. I have learned to trust in God, or whatever name you care to put to it. I call Him God. It really helped me, and I can say that there was no fear involved. I knew that the donor was 24 years old, though the circumstances of his death are unknown, and I feel his presence, along with a sense of responsibility to do something good with the rest of my life. To do something with it in a positive way.” — John Brizzolara