Saturday, February 4, 2023

poem

 Dr. Parker

It happens a couple times a month. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I don’t enunciate well enough. Either way, I go into a patient’s room and it’s usually some glum-looking old guy hang-dogging about in there. He sees me and his face lights up. Good morning Dr. Parker! You’re here early! Or: Helen wake up, this is Dr. Parker, he did your surgery last night! I stopped correcting them years ago. I don’t mind. I even embrace it. I’ll be Dr. Parker. Hell yes I will. It’s a nice change of pace. Sometimes I get caught up in it. Start acting a little weird. Arching my eyebrows, making my eyes big and crazed. Bobbing my head like a metronome. Literally tsk-tsking if there’s like bubbles in the IV line or jello stains all over his gown. Sometimes I’ll grab a slice of bacon from his plate. Good stuff here, boy. Only heartland hogs for you and me. Yessir. I like it a little crispier, know what I mean?  Winking at his wife. How’s that old belly feeling? I start talking in this odd accent. Like if Joe Pesci was born and raised in West Virginia. Old Dr. Parker. Slinging pearls of wisdom left and right. Get yourself some dried fruit. Big bowl of shriveled cherries. Gorge yourself. And no sex for 6 years. The wife chokes on a cashew. Tears in her eyes. Hallelujah, I say, waving around the bacon, while a con man televangelist on the TV hawks prayer guides for $19.99 a piece. Do you pray, Dr. Parker? Are you a man of the Lord? Oh Dr. Parker, we just knew the Spirit was in you. I make myself right at home in there. Ask the old guy if he has any bourbon hidden under his pillow. Tousle his white hair. We got some celebrating to do. Look at that light streaming in through the window.  Look at all that! They see it alright. They saw it from the very beginning. I knew you’d help us, Dr. Parker. I just knew it. You’re wonderful!  Oh, if only you really knew, I say. I’d stay in this room forever if I could. But I can’t dawdle all day in there. The other guy has work to do. I’ll have to go back to being Dr. Parks or Jeff or no one at all. Just a guy strutting down the hall in funky green shoes. The guy everyone thought they knew.  


2/3/22

poem

Woken

In this dream I’m startled from sleep

By the sounds of someone crying 

Curled next to me in a bed

I don’t check to see who it is

Not because I’m callous 

But because, by the law of dreams,

The dreamer already knows 

So I roll over and fall back to sleep,

Into another dream, one where now

I am the one sobbing, maybe

Because there’s no one

Next to me in bed and

It’s cold and the blankets are thin

And the old house creaks

And there’s no one in the room to hear,

To take pity on me, caress me, 

And the nightstand is avalanched

By stacks of unread books.

The only thing to do now

Is to cry myself to sleep

To cry myself to sleep

To keep crying myself asleep

Dream after dream 

Until I wake into a scene 

Where I’m cuddled under warm covers

With the one I already know, just before 

We both drift into dreamless sleep


2/3/23

Thursday, January 26, 2023

poem

 A List of Famous Hats
    -after James Tate

I knew a guy who believed hats evolved to fulfill a function,

Purely utilitarian, nothing to do with fashion 

He further claimed that some hats

Were originally designed to fit the misshapen

Cranium of some poor soul

Who needed to get out of the house

Without a million wiseguys gawking 

At his unfortunate deformity

The first pope hat, in fact, was designed for a literal inbred conehead

Napoleon's tricorne monstrosity was originally crafted by a nun 

For a poor orphan girl with skull dominant acromegaly 

Fascinator hats were godsends

For self conscious microencephalics

And let me introduce to you to Ahmed,

Proud inventor of the fez!

Pay no mind to

His pail shaped head

But then for some strange reason

Regular headed people found them 

Fiendishly chic 

Suddenly everyone had to have one

Before long we all forgot what

They’d been engineered to hide 

Stopped wondering why there was 

All that empty space inside


1/26/23

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

poem

 Scene I

Let’s get two people on the bank of a river

A man and a woman, both early twenties

He with a wispy mustache, a bowler hat,

Maybe dusty denim overalls 

She in a white cotton dress, her hair

Billowing from under a bonnet 

There’s no dialogue 

But you can tell he wants to say something

To her. He only has eyes for her

But she is gazing toward the flowing river

The camera follows her gaze

She could be watching the driftwood

Or the gnarled roots on the opposite bank

Or maybe just mesmerized by the motion of water

The camera pans in, the frigid river so close

Trickling like chills down your spine

Pretty soon we’re all watching the river

Wondering where it would take us


1/24/22

Saturday, January 21, 2023

poem

 Op Note XXXV

Had I known this surgery would be so difficult I would have switched call. I would have transferred it out.  Punted. I would have taken my daughter skiing and not gotten frustrated with her when she fell. I would have asked her about school and the pressures of eighth grade life and how I understood and was there anything I could do to help. I wouldn’t have made inane comments about the unseasonably warm weather, about the lovely view from the lift, the reifying properties of cold air. I would try not to let silence reign, lost in my thoughts worrying about the rocky course of the bowel case in the ICU. Snap out of it.  Pay attention to her.  It all goes by so fast. In the grand scheme of things this might be one of the last couple dozen times we sit together just the two of us undisturbed. Before she gets whisked away by her own rollicking life. Dangling above a mud slushed hill. I feel the weight of the countdown, the pressure to make it, if not iconic, at least memorable. I want to be the object of nostalgia. Hence my directionless unrequited rambling. Running out of time.  For her the ride is interminable. The mountain is Olympian, Himalayan. I know she just wants to check her phone. Put on her AirPods and listen to Taylor Swift. But it isn’t even a mountain, I say.  It’s barely a hill. Lift your skis, my little girl. We’re already almost there. 

1/20/23

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

poem

 3 Pebbles

You ought to carry three pebbles

In your pocket every day

(Not the one where your keys are kept

Lest they fall out when a door is unlocked)

You ought to carry three pebbles 

To remind you of the three

Things you aren’t allowed to forget

It has to be three, no more or less 

But the things you can’t forget

Are subject to certain rules 

One of the pebbles must always stand

For the fact that someday you’ll die

One has to remind you of something

Only you know about someone you love 

The last one is a wild card

Most people never assign anything

To the last pebble

It’s too hard to choose

It becomes a gravestone

Without a name   

That no one remembers

To bring flowers to


1/18/23

Monday, January 9, 2023

poem

 Op Note XXXIV

The patient was in a perilous state. Critical condition. We had done all that could be done. Maxed out on pressors. Vent settings 100%. It was all up to him now. Everyone seemed to be praying. His mother in the chair to his right, eyes closed, hands clasped, was whispering a prayer. The father prayed with his head bowed.  His best friend from childhood was praying.  His brother too. The teenage daughter had made her hands into a steeple.  A cleaning lady was making the sign of the cross. His wife alternated between weeping and praying, sometimes praying through the weeping. The nurse was mouthing words of benediction. The respiratory therapist stood in meek reverence, like a parishioner waiting for the priest to tell her she could be seated again. I looked past them all out the window at the flock of murmurating starlings swooshing in swirling arcs against the mottled gray sky. No one really knows why they do this. Maybe to confuse predators. Instinctual group behavior to increase their chances of living. I fought back the urge to think of them as a swarm of stinging insects. Bees or wasps. An endless onslaught of sharp pricks that feels like the sting of every single loss. Please be starlings, I thought. Please just be starlings.  


1/9/23

poem

Final Arrangements

This older couple was telling

Me about how they had already

Purchased their cemetery plot 


Successful people, educated,

Had paid off all their loans 

Pillars of some sub-average community


Don't get me wrong:

It’s the right thing to do

An act of dispassionate probity


Sparing mourning children

The undignified task

Of final arrangements 


But I’ve already decided

It’s cremation for me; no one’s

Putting my corpse in the wet ground. 


Being similarly disposed 

Toward responsible stewardship

I know it’s time for me to pick a fire 


Nothing too garishly infernal 

A simple blaze with licking flames

Hot enough to ash my bones


1/9/23


poem

 Contingency Plan

Once loved we reconfigure as characters

In someone else’s dream come true.

As conjured participants in another’s dream

We inevitably recognize our tenuous status: 

Our dreamer could wake at any moment.

We’d cease to exist.


So we do whatever we can 

To keep them soundly asleep:

Another warm blanket

A soft pillow

White noise

Drawn drapes to hide the moon

 

In the dream I lean over 

And whisper into her ear:

Yes my love, it’s all real,

It isn’t just a dream



1/9/23

Thursday, January 5, 2023

poem

 Had, Have

Once it was this great feeling I had

Or maybe it had me

Either way, tragic possession


Like falling in quicksand

The more you flail

The deeper the digression


Now it’s just something I have

Like an old key in a drawer

I forget what it opens


This scar on my hand

Once a deep wound

Wish it would bleed again


1/5/23