midtown hospital

i.
helicopters perched on midtown
hospital two blocks from my bed,
whirring like metal bugs, descending
on the critical, the maybe
savable. it’s the loudest
at night: the heart’s favorite time
to call it quits. i can’t ignore
the question of who: whose
body fits the gurney, whose
face pulled open with pain,
what parts remain
intact. what if it’s a body
i know. what if i don’t find out
til morning.

ii.
mom had freakish emt stories
i asked for again, and again.
how many times can i hear
construction worker with a pole
dropped straight through his skull,
still living, walking, just suddenly
unable to bend. or motorcyclist
like a piece of paper folded
down the middle, licked, and ripped
by asphalt: reduced, suddenly, by half.
there is nothing to learn
from this except accidental violence
is one way to go. (i check my head
for holes gone unnoticed, continued
completeness of my limbs.)
that sometimes you are dead
before you know it.

iii.
i have never lost anyone, except
a saxophone teacher (after just
one lesson together) whose lungs
filled with blood gone hard
after anesthesia. i think
about him at least once
or twice a year but remember him
dead. how is it i remember everyone
i’ve ever known who died but so few
others? this loss of acquaintances is
a conversational commodity,
a place to direct scheduled
sadness, share in the peripheral grief.

iv.
each night is merciless
in its uncertainty—who
will make it to morning, whose phone
will ring with the news.
i think about how my mom coughs
thick after waking, my dad walks
off center and my love carries lumps
of fat or tumor beneath skin.
it’s never been one of them
skyborne, suspended by rotors
and so much air, but only
by chance. maybe i am ruined
by the lack of loss—i just need
something big to go. one example
of permanent absence i lived
after.

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sun play

i am winter sunburn. the skin on my legs peels
like a sticker. beneath a freckle sloughed off
there is another. i drink water ’til my stomach
is tight but my body stays sand. my mother
is a fire marshall and she says burns are the worst
way to go, the dying can take months. i snap
fresh aloe stalks onto the parts i can reach and
imagine my body entombed in gauze.

in sickness and in health

an ex lover lays dying maybe in a hospital i’ve never
been to while we fuck in the morning for only the second time
ever. it starts because i try to pull the blanket
but grab him instead. an honest mistake.

the infection is maybe killing her maybe she won’t ever
be awake again maybe i think this while he peels me open
with his tongue, gnaws at the softness beneath
my chin, the trachea centimeters from his teeth.

he feels heavy above me, waterlogged. together we soak
the pillowcases. six states away she grows so small
that maybe one day the nurse forgets to check the bed for a body,
bundles her out with the dirty sheets.

2 pm

the day appeared as if we hadn’t been waiting.
he covers my body in sheets like a corpse,
but he is the one who is sick.
together we touch the soft mounds under his scalp,
finger the swollen lymph nodes beneath his jaw.
i kiss just below the ridge of his collar bone
and do not mention what i feel beneath my mouth.

i ask him again about the appointment time.
he lies and says he cannot remember.

Lakeside

after she called to tell me
he was in the hospital,
i swallowed the fingernails
i had been growing for months,
tore the razor scabs until shins
freckled with blood and skin,
pulled at lips until they hung from
the corners of my mouth like sidewalk worms.

i sat at the edge of the lake to meditate
feet entrenched in trashed mud
but instead I siphoned coffee down my
throat and nose until ulcers in my stomach
matched those on his gums.

slivers of algae shined lake glass
made comforting holes in the back of my thighs,
the sighing of thumb-size swells
became louder than the sound of
skull-bound neurons firing.

Crows

His neck sat at an odd angle to his shoulders
the swollen fingers of arthritis
gripping at every moving part of him.

(She said she stopped wearing her wedding ring
because she was scared of losing it to the jaws of the
kitchen sink)

At the short end of the dining room table
his shirt sleeves trailed through the boxed mashed potatoes,
cornbread nested in his alabaster beard.

(They hadn’t slept together in months,
the yellow rings of sickness in his eyes
were their gold wedding bands)

We made excuses to look at our father
offered him wine even though he preferred bourbon
and delivered seconds though his plate went untouched.

(The strap of his oxygen mask made lines on his scalp
as he slept, she grated bits of her fingers into his
morning oatmeal)

We ground cheap steak between our teeth
pulling bits of gristle from under our tongues
while mother ate hers 10-second-seared and bloody
leaving a pile of bones for the crows.

Empty Nest

I am not sure it is my mother on the phone
she coughs with her whole body
once every two minutes –
that is something I can know.
Perhaps she has been replaced
a flat-footed broad-faced plague of a woman
tendons in her neck
cresting like sea sick swells
and a mouthful of Halls
sucking medicine cherry
as she would aerate a dark red wine
through her cavern mouth
the pitch of her affirmations rise as they
approach the quiet
her sentences even question themselves
things a mother does not wonder
a salt-and-peppered productively ambiguous oracle of a being
accomplished at compartmentalizing she
swallows the bullshit of round bellied men
summer linens and
chlorine sticks from the pool shed.