Poem by Lauren Rooker
This is the poem I never wrote, the one
Iíve been meaning to write
for some time now, a year, a year and
1 month, a year and 1 month and 23 days.
Not that Iíve missed you, or your slick,
bluefish body, down to 68 lbs., caught
in that steel-barred bed,
the shiny pallor of your face staring up
at me every Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday
morning. The touch of palm
to shin (mine to yours) as I applied the appropriate
amount of pressure, enough to ease muscle spasms
triggered by electrons storming dead
neurons, synapses disconnected, neurotransmitters
on the blink, your mind a mess
of wires no doctor could untangle-
and you couldnít even talk
to me, could not split those sick-boy lips and push
my name into this world.
You just watched, wet eyes, sweat-soaked
chest, diaper warm with urine. A flood
of liquids, bodily fluids; you were
functioning, you were
The hollow rattle of the telephone,
the innís paneled walls stained dark
as your hair. I had crossed 2 continents, flown high
over the Atlantic to escape the familiarities
of my home. I did not expect
to be found, much less hear Uncle Gregís voice,
perfect American English broken
by choking breaths.
His words wrapped through the tight coils
of the plastic cord, ďHe lived through the night.
Donít bother coming homeĒ-
an explanation later. I returned
the receiver to it stand, pushed
through paned glass doors to a vacant
balcony, eyes open to the French sky, as foreign
and untouchable as your face.
The child-sized box shone a lacquered white,
bright light and blank as your face those last
few months. Whittled down to bare-bones
structure and the skin of the sick,
you looked more like a prisoner of war
than a 12-year-old boy. I used to stand over
your bed as you slept and imagine you
a victim of Nazi Germany, limbs beaten
blue and black, black holes
for eyes, muscles atrophied from lack
of food. I wondered if good Jewish boys and good
Catholic boys went to the same Heaven.
I can mark your path through that day.
A week out of school, your blooming body
celebrating its new-found freedoms, its growing
strength. Tall at 11, your arms could finally
reach that lowest limb. You pulled yourself up,
white face flashing through slats of black shade
and green light, into the cradle-like seat where the trunk split.
Any boyís lasso in hand, you tied
your toy to the thickest branch, testing
its ability to support our weight. Sure
of the treeís strength, you sprang
into the air.
But somewhere something
had tangled, the knot tightened, you hung
there, barely swinging, the rope pressing
its braided pattern into your neck. You would never again live
without that scar.