Michelle Bitting: "Wheel of Fortune"




is what’s on tonight

at the nursing home,

cranked so loud, tinitis is certain

if first we don’t go deaf.

I could be home right now

ordering take-out: chicken masala,

garlic naan, a spicy lamb curry

and cooling lassi

whose fatty iridescence

is like mangoes

belly dancing in my mouth. If only

my son hadn’t clapped

his slender, pre-teen hands,

It’s time to go give Grandma some love

he proclaimed, making me

but a particle adrift

in the dome of his greater compassion,

the vast and selfless amplitude

of a boy’s better heart.

So here we are,

dazzled by Vanna White’s smile,

her scarlet sequined gown

and seething cleavage,

our eyes lighting up

as the contestants lean

to twirl the neon dial

like ravenous leopards

from the shadowed brush

of mortal desire. One theory holds

that physical touch

promotes longer life,

lowers blood pressure, opens chakras,

keeps endorphins flowing,

boosting the immune system

which may or may not be the equivalent

of Rilke’s call to

throw armfuls of emptiness

out to the spaces, maybe the birds will sense

the expanded air, flying more freely—

birds, perhaps, being blood

and blood being life? So when

the orderly scuffles into the room

with spare wheelchairs to sit in,       

we cozy up to Grandma and Pat Sajak,

mindful to touch her arms,

her gnarled hands, to gently

stroke her twiggy wrists,

especially the left one

with a grape-juice-stain-colored bruise

from her recent IV ordeal,

and in this way, possibly coax her

past the 95 year-old end zone line

to a centenarian touch down. So what

if her brain

is a sketchy silhouette

of its former incarnation,

the synaptical arrow landing most go rounds

on the black bankrupt

and lose-a-turn slots.

She can’t remember

the old stories she loved to tell,

the wild, depression-era days

on a Nebraska farm,

the lousy ex-husband

who got hacked like pickled hog,

slipping under the chugging train

he was trying to jump, stone drunk.

Gone, gone, the impromptu kitchen

lessons: Chicken Paprikash,

recipes for stuffed cabbage

and pistachio cake, Mile High Pie

made with soda crackers and Dream Whip,

the hundreds of doughy spaetzel 

I’ve watched her shove off the cliff

of a gleaming spoon

like crazed lemmings

into a salty boiling pot,

watched them sink

to the bottom and bob back up,

the steam pinking my cheeks

as I sucked my lip in anticipation

of dumpling clouds

soaked in butter, paprika, cream,

the bright coins of carrots,

just the thought of something that delicious

spinning around your mouth

enough to make you feel

lucky to be alive.



Michelle Bitting has published work in numerous journals, including Cortland Review, Crab Orchard Review, Nimrod, Passages North, Poetry Daily, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, River Styx, Sou’wester, and Verse Daily. Her full-length collection of poems, Good Friday Kiss, won the DeNovo First Book Award, and C & R Press published it in 2008. Bitting is also the author of a chapbook, Blue Laws. She teaches in the U.C.L.A. Extension Writers’ Program as well as for California Poets in the Schools.