Excerpt #108, Rocking-Chair Moon

Realization
—Carly

I’ve seen you, now,
and the tempered gratitude I used to feel
flew out the window even as I tried
to hold on to it with reminders to myself
that you’re alive and you can still walk
and talk and you know us
and you don’t have to go back
and there are lots of sisters
who are worse off,

but you’re lying in that bed and letting me
hold your hand and I’m looking in your eyes
and I can’t bear the things I see there—
loss, pain, betrayal,
ghosts I can’t chase away,
loneliness I can’t penetrate,
the futility of hugs and finger touches
and smiles and assurances,

the scary realization that the thing
in the closet, under the bed,
in the deepest dark of the backyard,
the bogeyman everyone always told you
was just pretend,
is real, it’s real.

 

Carly’s Buddy
—Ben

Through the fog I recognize Carly,
even before she gets close
and gives me an octopus hug
that takes my breath away,

but I don’t know the girl with her,
the dark-haired girl with the cute little
dude hanging on her leg like a lamprey eel,
although she looks like someone I kind of
remember from somewhere, a dream, maybe,
a Sunday-school angel, a morphine mirage,

but Carly introduces her to me
and her name’s Megan and she went to
our high school—groupless, she claims,
although I can’t imagine why—
and she takes my hand and looks me
up and down,
everywhere,
the kind of candid look
that everyone else is avoiding,
and she smiles,

and the other people in the room—
Mom, Grandpa,
Carly the eight-armed mollusk,
Ethan the junior eel—
fade into the background,
extras for now in this scene,

the one you’d scoff at if you saw it
through the popcorn haze
of a darkened movie theater,

the one where two young people
lock in on each other and suddenly
string music builds to a crescendo

and fireworks explode
in the shape of two giant hearts in the sky.

 

Realization, Part Two
—Carly

Okay, I get it now,
I can see what’s going on,
I can feel the chemical reaction-attraction
brightening even the dingy walls and windows
of this shabby room,
I can tell Mom and Grandpa
and even little man Ethan can feel it too,
and I have an absurd naïve foolish sense
that this whole thing—
the going off to war and the coming back
with only one arm and the hole
in your side and another in your soul
and the lying here in the hospital bed
with that hug-me look on your face—
was just a clever ploy,
an elaborate arrangement of fiction and
special effects staged so you could meet
my loving, giving, hot friend Megan.

I wish.

And now, just as you’ve planned,
she’ll look past all the exterior stuff
and artifice and see the real Benny
and instantly realize how special you are
and how she’ll never be able
to give up on you
and how you’ll never be able
to give up on her
because you love her, and Ethan too,
and the world is full of second chances,
and you’re hers and she’s yours
and sometimes second chances
are way better than first ones, and she
won’t just feel like a sister, she’ll be one.

I hope.

 

Ghost Knuckles
—Ben

Room B23 is dim and dozing now,
quietly oozing the smells
of piss and Pine-Sol
and laundry detergent, fitfully stirring
with the tick and beep of machines
and monitors and the distant,
midnight murmurs from the corridor
and elevator shaft and street below,
and for the first time in forever
a sense of contentedness
warms what’s left of my body

until I hear a memory-awakening sound
at the door—
ghost knuckles,
I’d imagined once, long ago,
the soft tap-tap of a birthday party crasher
arriving in the dead of night—
but the real-life nurse who pokes her head
through the opening sees the glint
of my eyes, maybe,
and in a soft Snow White voice
asks me how I’m doing and I say

Better.

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