Fluid and Bone

She fought for every breath, her daughter said.
So did my wife in her hospice bed,
So did I, yesterday, alone in the kitchen,
My throat narrowing between coughs
Like a curtain closing at play’s end
Then opening again,

Then a note from a friend,
A valve of his heart needs replacing.
It will be all right, I said, not knowing if it would.
It sucks, he said. These leaky sacks of fluid and bone,
How do they stay upright, stay hopeful for so long,
Calculate the weight of a star, make children laugh
By hearing their dog, then howling along?

(First published in Backchannels Poetry Edition, Spring 2023. Thanks to the editors.)

Neurons

In line at the liquor store, chuckles and mumbles behind me,
I turn, a man grinning, ducking his head, have I cut in line? And then I see
His cart is empty. He jerks his head toward me, the clerk, the world,
Words spilling but not forming into chains I know, his eyes pleading
To help it all begin, to continue what he is trying to make happen,
Pulling and pulling the start cord, hearing only the chuttering choke,
My mom in Memory Care, asking me if there’s a chicken on her bed
And I say I can’t see it, mom, and the look in her eye, the grim knowing
Her world is not how others see it, that she never went on a wedding cruise
With a Mexican family to New York City and yet she did it,
As real as the invisible book she told me she was writing about her life,
No time for my visit that day. Now scoot, she said. That same look
On his face now, the jerky unspooling of his movie, nothing to do
With liquor stores or even me, who knows what he really sees,
This man or rooster or Mexican family standing in front of him, trying not
To make eye contact, because I fear sharing that look is a contract,
A confession that his world and mine are the same, that what is happening
Happens to us both. How many neurons between us? Like that game Tetris,
The doctor told us, as our mother lay there talking to imaginary people,
Our life slowly disappears, block by block, then suddenly tumbles,
The people and places we knew, the laws we followed,
The trips we took, no more real than dreaming them. I leave the store,
See him rambling through an alley talking on a ghost phone,
Maybe for a moment that phone will fizz from his hand,
A remembered sun will arc in his eyes
Like in my mom’s one day, after an hour of her cursing and abuse,
Murder plots, I told her I had to go and her entire body shifted,
Her face rearranged and she said in a forgotten sweetness
The old script from our shared life: I love you son, tell them all hello,
Be careful going home.


(First published in Willows Wept Review #28, Spring 2023. Thanks to editor Troy Urquhart.)

Wonderful Copenhagen

“Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen,” Danny Kaye sang in Hollywood,
Pretending to be Hans Christian Andersen, a man who made up tales of
Talking cats and mermaids, a man who never heard Orson Welles
Interrupt our radios to report that Martians just invaded New Jersey,
A man who never saw the fair that appeared on the edge of
My hometown every Fall, bright with whirling rides,
Dark with waxy fetuses floating in jars, “You will not believe your eyes”
A voice droned from a crackly speaker and everyone widened theirs,
Greedy to trust the lie of that trashy traveling fantasy,
Cheer on the bloody farce of Fritz Von Erich’s Iron Claw,
Grand Guignol in our junior high gym. I was so terrified of baseball
I told my teammates my dad had a new job with NASA,
We were moving to Houston and I couldn’t play anymore,
My dad, a schoolteacher, working with aerospace engineers –
They looked at me beyond sneering or wonder, my tale told
With the total liberty born of fear, hoping to turn heads from
The dull fact of baseballs fleeing from my bat and glove.
Making up things is a different kind of Houdini trick,
The act ending for most at that lonely moment on their stage
When what they’re saying no longer makes them feel free.
I believed my dad worked for NASA. I still do.

(First published in Willows Wept Review #28, Spring 2023. Thanks to editor Troy Urquhart.)