Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Poem II


Grace is when you get something good
you don’t deserve;
An unexpected kindness,
A blindside forgiveness.
Growing up, this was a lesson I never fully learned.
All the love I ever got,
I thought it had to be earned.

Grace is the way that fate saves face.
When your number comes up,
When you draw an inside straight.
When the roulette ball lands on black
Or the night you never threw a craps.
But you can’t even roll the dice
If you haven’t paid a price.

It’s too late now.
I, a middle-aged mediocre man,
Am tired, too tired to play.
I’ve been played and plied
By pale-faced, black-vested croupiers
On every corner, in every town.
I’ve lost all verve
Almost effortlessly on the verge
         of losing my nerve.

They bring my dinner.
The steam rises from the plate.
Rice and beef and sautéed onions.
Everyone bows their heads
And whispers the husked words
While I tabulate how many surgeries
Reaped this desultory abundance.
I can’t help it, it makes everyone irate:
Numbers tell you scores and sums and years.
I’m always counting up the arrears.

If only someone would have mercy.
Waive all intentions of vengeance,
Instruct me in the ways of penance:
No matter how tersely


Sunday Poem

Oceans of Space

They say you shouldn't ever begin a story with a suicide:
Where would you go then?
A story loses interest when the major players have all died.
If inevitable, it belongs at the end,
Like Hamlet, his reckless lunge into a doomed tip;
When Fortinbras arrives, everyone gives the stage the slip

And so I’ll start with a suicide averted.
In the ocean of space
Between all my raging pretensions
And the banal ink I’ve etched onto the page
Are two tiny islands pinned to a map
I’ve unfurled across my wall
And beyond the blue vastness is the edge of a continent,
A massive expanse of the solidity I’ve wished to be:
I’ll never get there;
Get me to my rapier

Stranded in the middle of the sea
Drifting west or perhaps east
(You never learned to read the sun)
Clinging to waterlogged flotsam
Fighting not to sink to the bottom.
But you get tired of kicking toward
A false varnish of seeming.
Nor is it palatable to accept returning
To the bland island of actual being
And so you drift in the current
Until your arms tire, go numb;
Just let go---- it’s no longer any fun


Saturday, September 16, 2017

Weekend Poem


The storm wasn’t as bad as originally feared---
When the feral purple spiral bruise
Swirled slowly north on video maps on the TV news.
The Gold Coast of the Gulf side was relatively spared.
The affluent had all fled to landlocked luxury hotels
(and drank vodka cranberry cocktails)
(and Facebooked pictures of their travails)
While the “less fortunate” bailed water from mobile homes.
Waded dazed where streets used to be, clutching dead flip phones

Certain people always describe these things as a “blessing”
The way it all “works out in the end”
Anointing dumb luck
With God’s personal touch
While all the rest are just plain fucked

As if God chooses when to tilt
The odds in your favor,
Load the dice and become your savior.
Send down the wind and rain
Flood the plains, wash away your guilt.

It dawns on the privileged
Just before the roast duck is served
(The uncorked wine a rare vintage).
The Patriarch reframes the gilded opulence
As a gift from God, a gentle reminder
To bow our heads, to accept material prominence

Let us pray:
We are all blessed, the patriarch will say
Bless our beautiful beachside home
Bless our talents and skills, our collective health
Bless you all, bless our long sought wealth
And no one deigns to query (like an asshole):
Where was this god when a child was blown to bits in Yemen,
When another was orphaned by the events of 9/11?

The storm will pass, retreat from bayside mansions
(For the rest, the seas remain ever high)
They make a tally of the damage done:
A couple of window screens smashed
Palm fronds scattered across the lush Bermuda grass
Protective canvas torn from the boat lolling in the sun
But the dock itself unharmed, steadied by stanchions.
Let’s post a picture of old dad on a ladder;
Look at him, how cute with his hammer,
Everything again made right.
Scrolling through, I can't help but click “like”


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Work History

I always find myself asking a new patient what they do or, for the elderly, what they did for work.  All this stuff about heart caths and gallstones and knee scopes and the gout acting up is numbing and disconnecting. Abstract collections of fact.  Case studies in a stack of medical journals.  Where am I?  What is this place?  Why are we in this room together?  Why are we sharing this space?

If you aren't a doctor you wouldn't know exactly what I mean.

The contrived forced intimacy.  One on one, the one way sharing of embarrassing secrets and frailties. Enough of the unmentionables.  Let's discuss something else.  What kind of work did you do when you were younger?  As if knowing Stan ran a hair salon or Sue was a third grade reading teacher would somehow bridge the gap of absurdity that brought us together here in this small room.  Remind me I'm not alone in here, brightly lit, all the gauze and tape, antiseptic steel. Something to interrupt the piercing gaze, to start again to feel.

The old woman snoozed during the initial interview.  A daughter answered all the pertinent questions.  The colitis.  Bedridden.  Recurrent urinary infections.  Confined.  Early dementia. But what did she used to do?  And the old woman heretofore ignored, sprung to life, as if plugged in, visage brightened.  I used to teach Sunday school.  You know my granddaughter says I have squishy skin.  She likes to pinch the skin on my arms between her fingers like this and she says I have squishy skin and I tell everyone I am an old woman with squishy skin.

And just like that her smile faded.  Her eyes went dull and she turned away toward another blank wall.  That was it.  The lady with "decreased skin turgor".  I put my hand on her forearm.  I didn't pinch, just a light gathering of loosening elastic flesh.  I could see what her granddaughter meant.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sunday Poem


The elderly woman lie frail and skeletal on the bed
Blankets tented over legs bent like snapped sticks.
All you could see was the top of her head
A neck kinked sideways, mouth agape, transfixed.
Eyes only half closed, but she didn’t seem awake.
A daughter, I presumed, sat pensive in the chair
Unread book in her lap, sudden stirring from a long stare.
The TV was on but without any sound.
They wanted me to have a look at that wound
The daughter nodded, shrugged, she didn’t care,
Resigned, beyond all doubt
Another new shore.
I asked if she wanted to step out
She paused--- no, I’ve seen it all before

We rolled the old woman right side down
Gurgling groaning moans
Burbled up from the layered covers.
Just to be moved----
To be disturbed----
When all you want is to lie interred,
Insentient, to fade into darkness,
Is an intolerable insult, a cosmic injustice.
Movement can be catastrophic
When you’ve found a good position
Just where you are, a grateful attrition,
A mind become un-philosophic.

Her body was withered and light and taut
Like an old mitt left out all winter---  frozen stiff.
Tight, husked, inelastic----
Like molded hard plastic.
She used to speak with her hands, the daughter thought,
A choreographed undulating gestural flow,
Mapping the route of butterflies through a meadow

It was an unstageable sacral ulcer,
A swirl of soft blackish tan like crusted brown mustard
Left uncapped on the counter.    
It squished when probed
Like veering off trail through a bog.
Boots sinking into a tarry muck.
It would all have to be cut.
She felt nothing though;
The flesh sloughing, deadened
Losing ourselves in layers.
There are no prayers.
Our bodies just shed, are surreptitiously lessened.  
Her odor lingered as an epilogue.
The nurse had to turn her head
We breathed through our mouths.
This hole eroding into a body
Boring deeper, into the muscle, into the joints
Death seeping into us here
At our pressure points.

We associate injury with violent impact
Shearing forces, savage speed
Bones break, you bleed
(Crashes are never abstract)
Fateful moments when things collide.
But a pressure sore is an injury gained
From motionless consistency, a heaviness sustained.
There is only so much a body can abide
Time and pressure
Flesh against surface

Soft tissue sandwiched between bed and bony prominence.
The only option becomes acquiescence
A body cannot attain perpetual motion
Cannot forever stay aloft.
Our forward, hopeful inertia always gets spent.
We run out of steam,
We decline, become senescent,
End up supine, we cease to dream.
At the contact points are the stirrings of a long rot.
Flesh pressed, the seconds add up
Maybe an hour before the stressed cells start to fail
You can’t tell at first, a blanching, a light breeze against a sail

At a certain time, we should all be able to float,
To set sail, to just be---
Buoyant, to glide---
To slip into a warm river and drift with the current
A long untroubled easing toward an open sea,
A weightless leisurely ride,
Along an infinite frictionless asymptote

I remember Marco Island after college
Long days at the beach and then, after a nap,
Gathering at a dive called the Tides, for the sunset.
It was happy and good, the young and old,
Live music, people chattering, laughing
Plates clattering, stories being told.
The sun behind us a hot cigarette tip
Starting its ineluctable, imperceptibly slow dip,
The ocean calm and placid, a beckoning blue trap.

I liked best the reckoning just before fusion
A thin sliver of ghostly light between sun and ocean.
Almost daring something (or someone) to slide through.
If I hustled to the horizon I’d just fit
A reckless dive through a closing slit,
For once the inferior arc of the full orb fuses
The vanishing accelerates, but it leaves no bruises
The sun just sinks, loses itself into the deep indigo gloom.
It melts into the vastness, liquefied, subsumed.

Many times I missed the disappearance altogether
Turning away a few minutes to talk or laugh
Or maybe I just had to run to the john.
When I returned and looked west it was gone.
I had missed it,
Time extinguished it,
Vestiges of light faintly holding on
A hint of the glow of another world’s dawn.  

We used to believe the world was flat.
Primitive superstitions
Gods, black cats
Prophetic visions.
We know better now.
We don’t dissolve into One,
Like our perpetually sinking sun
Always to rise on the morrow

At a certain time, may we all drift to this last ledge,
The mass of us floating with ease
Nudged by a warm Gulf breeze.
To fall at the end over the edge,
To leave behind this solid edifice,
And on the precipice,
Our hands begin to unfold, a final rhythmic gesture,
Before the pull of gravity none can resist
And we fall terminally into a deep abyss;
A hurtling escape from time, from pressure.