V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics




I saw the gravel edge,
The curve ahead—
One second expanded
Tire caught stone

Then all,
All slid from mind
And hand, then lovely


Loose container
Of fragments, bone
Parts afloat in gel
Pain closing teeth on

Nothing, eyes
Filled with ceiling tiles,
Gurney bumps.  Brain
Burning the odds.


Lying still after
I.V. morphine, feeling
Blood velvetize the thousand
Tissue screams—

Blessing.  Rising
Like a shaky scaffold
To crap in a chair by my bed—
Lord have mercy.


Once, played Vladimir
In a production of Waiting
For Godot.  It
Hurt, that part, it was

Too close to every-
Day, stripped
Of obligation.  Please,
When will the doctor


Come?  I ask, or Sarah
Asks.  But nurses
Don’t know, phlebotomists,
Aides, housekeepers

Don’t.  The Docs’
Hands way too deep
In chests, heads, bowels, too far
From any pleading.


My roommate’s dying
Moans, grunts,
No no, no no no’s
Steal more of my sleep

Than vital signs—
Blood sticks, B.P, dressing
Changes.  Then die, I whisper
To the dun curtain.


Doug & Susan
Come, & Lucinda & Leslie,
& Rachel, & Alan, &
I get smaller

With each visit—
Farther away & harder
To hear, to see, until no one
Comes, I am not there.


Thought like a black
Seed in my head—I may
Not return.  Grew,
Infected Sarah, who left

The sad room to scream
Inside the car.   Sad
Room, may I go home,
May I leave before I leave?


Three tubes in my side
Coil to two
Blood boxes
By my side, chuffing

Bad fluid out
My chest.  I feel each tube
Move as I move,
Dagger on bone.


Stitches snipped, needles
Removed—sent home,
Home to mend.
All shall be well, soon.

Dressing change daily,
Gauze packed
Like nettles in the wound
To keep it open.


Roshi said the people
In the plane crash
Are fifty percent responsible
For their own deaths,

The other fifty—
Nothing to do with them.
The rest of us shuttle between
One half & the other.


Mind keeps
The unutterable to
The margin—black stitching
Around a valentine—

True Love the cursive
Stitch wandering
The edge, while further in—
O Death, Be Mine. 


Which is to say
My death so tiny
My death so intimate
My death so embarrassing

My death so chalky
My death so thin
My death so decorous—
Quiet in the hospital chair


Fever, & the tunnel
From infected
Fluid inside to bandaged
Skin—hot poison

Spurts each time
I turn or cough
Or laugh.  Lucky the latter’s
Rare, & rarer.


So much good
Was mine, an embarrassment,
A warehouse,
A loft of busy artists.

Is there a scale
That knows me, i.e., says
Hey, you’ve had enough,
Stand down?


God hauled in
Again for questioning—
Is this your work
By chance?  No,

I’m well out of
That business.  But you
Admit being at the scene?—
Among others, yes.


A week without
A shower
Because a walk across
The room ends in

Exhaustion, & water
Cannot touch
My wounds on either side.
Let me sleep, & stink.


Pre-op countdown:
Remove your
Rings & underwear. 
Lie flat on the gurney.

Allergy to latex?  Emergency
Contact, not your wife?
Living will, on file
With us?  Comfortable?


Some nurses say Sweetie,
Others Sir.  Some
Find the vein
Right off, others hunt

& poke.  Some
Have healing faces, some
Soft hands.  All
Arrive too late for pain.


Jesus, listen,
I don’t know, I think
I have not been
This close to nothing,

I see now
How you live, the cold,
The invariance—I see your need,
Feel your likeness.


One can heal
And it is not sentimental,
Not a story for kids,
Not a myth—

But miraculous—
Orpheus returned
From the underworld, glad,
Head full of hell.


At the center
Sarah, then Laura & Bonnie,
Then Leslie, other
Friends, nurses, emails,

Cards, phone calls,
Flowers.  Then
The grit I saved from childhood. 
Sarah at the center.


To come back
After long illness—like switching
Gills to lungs,
All fours to walking

Upright—to be human
Again.  I mean
The human of Mozart & Weil,
Not some airy phantom.


© by Jeffrey Skinner


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