Tuesday, August 31, 2010

They Shine

like little stained pearls
all glossy opaque and tan.
he pulls back the wings so that
I can see underneath
where it turns red.
It is bone and tendon, vessels wrapping.

There is no meat here.

Everyone just crushes them he says.
turning the insect over so that
it’s segmented stomach
the plates of armor are visible.

and this one, he says,
pulling out another tray,
look at this.

It’s a praying mantis,
it’s legs stretched out
like an sacrifice, pinned to the board.
It is so green it is almost violent,
and the desire to both look away and to touch is overwhelming.

They don’t look different,
these creatures, when they are dead
then when they are alive.

Flesh loses the soul,
its elasticity turns taunt and stiff,
there is a harsh change you cannot undo.

But these creatures, their hard scrabble
crunching lives, they still stare up at me
segmented eyes, beaded like dew, watching, always watching,
claws, shining under the light, at their mouth
legs with jagged teeth
wings like handmade paper, veined
ready to un-tack from this prison

and beat
then lift,
like cilia pumping on the first water insect,
the need for survival quickening the heart.

Monday, August 30, 2010

My Father's Life Work

He picks up the other extension
and starts right away.
My mother gets off the phone.
Hello? my father says again.

Hey, dad. The phone crackles in my ear.

He tells me how great he feels
about how he mowed the front and the back lawns yesterday.
Both in one day.
He hasn’t done that in years.
He’s very proud.

Then he asks me about paint
and the Yankee game.
What kind did you get, paint and primer?
You need paint and primer. All in one.
Is it flat? You should have gotten eggshell
but it’s okay. You didn’t know.
Good. Good.
Did you see the Yankee game?
No dad, we put on a movie.

Oh Ally, you missed a great game,
he says, his voice going high.
The pitcher, oh man, that pitcher. What is his name?
I don’t know.

No, really what is his name?I yell into the kitchen to ask my husband.

I tell my father.
Yeah, my father says, that guy. That guy is so good.
Don’t worry about the B12 shot. It’s nothing. It’s nothing.
It was such a good game. I swear, one of the best.
So what else is new? All these kids are here. I’m hiding
in the garage. Now he starts to laugh, this high wheezy laugh.
I gotta tell you honey, I’m here hiding in the garage.

This goes on for half an hour.
At the end he tells me about the drugs.
I’ve never felt this good honey.
I don’t want it to end, he says.
I finally feel like I should. Not like a 90 year old.
Like a 45 year old. This makes him laugh again.
I laugh along.
It’s been so long since I heard him sound like this.
The way he used to.

I feel like before 2003, he tells me.
Before the cancer, and the surgery, the chemo
before the stooped walk he now has,
and the leg pain,
and the sickness and the vomiting
before the catheter and the pain killers
and the exhaustion and the struggle to get out of the chair.
And the struggle to get into the chair.
And the struggle to get down the hall, one damaged leg after another.

It’s terrible like this, I think. To go, piece by piece. To fall apart, to live
through the cancer and watch the rest of you break down
until your life’s work is just
holding yourself together long enough to get through the day.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this good,
he says laughing.
He tells me again, before the surgery I guess.

I guess so, Dad, I say and swallow, my mouth full of words.
It’s great. It’s really great, I manage to get out.

It is honey, he says.
I don’t even feel like I’m dying anymore.
And then that laugh again, high,
like air coming out of a balloon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cell by Cell

My husband reads me the details,
about the couple killed in the city
we used to live in.

And I picture Main Street, downtown,
where the subway is. He tells me about
their children back in Texas.
Orphans, now, he says.

And just like that, I think about the fire
down the street from my job,
the conversation, the air full of soot
heat and ash, the crumbling blackened
charred bones of the building,
its sisters, standing open windowed
as if shocked, dripping wet.

You gather these people,
cell by cell, that share your space.
You breathe the same air as them,
jostling against them as the bus
chugs through the city
like a dying thing. You hate and love them.

You stand in front of these buildings,
these streets, and you watch the body fail.
Limp and bloodless. Smoke filled and charred,
like inanimate thing, a body transformed into ash.
I know nothing of the spirit; neither, I suspect, do you.
You wait and watch but in the end,
eventually the destruction is gone,
cleaned up by the men whose job it is to clean the body,
the building, to make new the face of the street,
and you nod
and you shuffle off,
board the bus,
thinking of the day behind you, the night ahead of you,
rub your eyes and exhale into your hands,
your breath filling the pockets of flesh from bone to bone,
It wasn’t me. Thank God. This time.
It wasn’t me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Women who Tend

We had been talking for hours, as if we weren’t seated in this hospital room
as if my father wasn’t in that bed and the sick man on the other side
of the curtain couldn’t hear us.

We talked about work and weekends, paint colors, the Yankees.
We passed around pictures of the new baby.

It was later when the nurse came, in her shockingly white shirt
breaking up our little party that we scattered, jumping up from our seats
nearly tripping over ourselves as if royalty has entered the room.
We collect at the back and sides, staying out of the way.

She bends down by my father’s bedside talking to herself,
not to us and not to him, just talking quietly to herself,
in this menial task of emptying the sack of urine hooked to my father’s bedside.

She places a plastic jug on the floor and tips the bag over
and I listen to the sound of my father’s urine hitting the plastic.

We are quiet now so the sound fills the room.
The tap of it, all pitter patter against the plastic.
It sounds like a tornado at one point, like it will never stop.

We all look away, my mother and my husband and I.
We look up and down, we clear our throats. We avert our eyes.

I feel the thickness and the weight of my own body filling space,
taking the air out of the room. I can smell the sweat of the living,
the metallic taste of it against the white walls.

It is like an offensive thing, all this breathing in and out, this pumping of blood,
the wet jelly of the body my feet clad in sandals snapping against the floor
as I walk out of the room trying not to think about how many times,
I have seen these women in white who tend to the body.