May 12, 2016

Caught in Traffic


We'd strapped him to his bed for over a year,

Paid a fat, black woman to wear a white dress

Change his bed pan, and sit with him at night,

But when the bone white pigeon banked

Between the buildings in a pale twilight

The old man's brain liquefied.

Foam, whose tiny bubbles reflected my face,

Bloomed on his lips as he swallowed his tongue.

It said 5:47 on the red crystal clock by the wet bar,

And his breath rattled in the room like some

Tired exhaust fan from the Roaring Twenties.

His wife was out shopping at Woolworths,

Or trying to sell something back to Cartiers.

The black nurse was downstairs flirting

With Desi the tap dancing doorman.

Prince the chauffeur buffed the black Lincoln

And wondered what he do when the old lady died.

My wife was teasing our toddler in the living room.

Everyone else was trying to get home from work.

Somewhere inside his skull the skinned nerves

Kept sending signals down the spine to the heart.

And I blotted his lips in that burnt orange room

As his arms flapped like a beached fish before

The fisherman brings down the club.

I turned from the bed, pulled up the beige blinds,

And gazed out the window wondering

Where the bone white pigeon had gone.
Then I called the Doctor's number listening

To his wheezing until the call was answered.

"He's dying," I said to the man I'd never met.

"You should send an ambulance and a team

Of medics right now. He's going. Going fast."

The calm voice answered from far across town,

"He's home. He's been dead for a year, you know.

We just change the sheets and pay the nurses.
I can keep his body going as long -- as long --

As long as you want. You need to tell me.

Look outside. How heavy's the traffic on Fifth?"

I looked down on a solid ribbon of oozing steel.

"Wedged," I said. "Hardly moving at all."

"Look at his eyes," the voice said. I looked

Down into his eyes and they had no bottom.

"Who's there?" the voice asked on the phone.

"No one I know," I said. "No one at all."
I held the phone and waited, looking out over the park.

"I'll send an ambulance when you tell me," he said.

The bone white pigeon came sweeping out of the light

And settled on the sill as calm as the quiet in the room.

"Send them when you can," I said. "No rush.
They'll just get caught in traffic."

Posted by gerardvanderleun at May 12, 2016 9:03 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Odd. I was thinking about this piece just the other day. If I remember right you first posted it as prose, and later as a poem. I was there at the moment my father-in-law died. I recall a sense of awe that overshadowed any sadness. My mother passed on just over a year ago. At the end she was faded, but quite lucid. I saw her of a Saturday. Sunday morning the nursing home called me. Mother-in-law remains with us, but for how much longer we can't say. You never know. Now it's just me and my most beloved wife. The only death I fear is hers.


Posted by: jwm at May 12, 2016 10:42 PM

Almost the identical same situation here JWM.

Something woke me with a jolt this morning and I immediately got up and made my way to the kitchen for my morning mud. My wife was kneeling on the floor, the bottle of coffee cream over that at the end of a white trail. I ran to her and helped her up and asked, "What happened?" and she said she didn't know, she just got dizzy. I walked her to the breakfast nook table and she sat. I fixed her coffee and brought it to her and I asked again, "What happened?" and again she said she didn't know.

2 hours later she seems OK. Scary.
She can't go before me. She just can't. It's not in the plan.

"I looked
 Down into his eyes and they had no bottom."


I look into millennials eyes and see no top.

Posted by: ghostsniper at May 13, 2016 4:48 AM

Better get her a thorough checkup, ghost. Same thing put my wife in the ER about 10 years ago, and after a lot of looking they found colon cancer, which they removed and there's been no recurrence. Same thing for me about four years ago, which turned into a pacemaker job.

Posted by: BillH at May 13, 2016 6:40 AM

I don't what to say. They are both gone now, I feel lonely sometimes. I wish those that are left were closer, figuratively and literally. I guess I should try harder.

Posted by: Will at May 13, 2016 6:46 AM

Thanks Bill. I talked to her a little while ago about this, but after 33 years together she has become like me, loathing everything medical. I'll keep on her.

Posted by: ghostsniper at May 13, 2016 8:20 AM

I was holding my father's hand when he died. It was soft and small, like a child's. This piece brings it all back. Thank you.

Posted by: James LePore at May 13, 2016 9:17 AM

Lost both my folks in May 12 years ago. Each passed within 5 days of each other. I was there when my Dad passed. Hauntingly familiar

Posted by: Misanthropic Humanitarian at May 13, 2016 10:14 AM

I have a little different story. My Father had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, they gave him just weeks to live. He wanted to die at home so we put a hospital bed in the living room and called Hospice. Everything went according to plan, he remained quite lucid through-out. When his time came, the family gathered, he panicked and said to call an ambulance to take him to the hospital, though everyone knew there was nothing anyone could do but God.

We live in a very small community so we called the ambulance and told them "no flashing lights, no siren". A friend of my dad's was on call that day and came right over, Jack said "hello Carl, did you want to go for a ride"? They sat him up in the gurney so he could see his surroundings and put him in the ambulance, my brother got in too. Jack left the ambulance doors wide open and they very slowly took my Dad for a little ride. As my father watched they took him down to the turn-around at the lake, and through main street past the store Dad had operated for 30 years. The drive took about 10 minutes and then Jack and his partner rolled Dad back into the house.

Dad was much calmer as they laid him back down. I took his hand looking at him intently. It seemed he wanted to say something to me, so I put my ear up close to his face. He whispered "don't you ever clean your glasses"? Those were his last words. God I miss the old guy.

Posted by: tonynoboloney at May 13, 2016 11:45 PM

Mr. Ghost,
Waiting for the other shoe to drop is exhausting. Wondering if you coulda caught it is heartbreaking. I think it's disrespectful to "make" a person do something they really don't want to do with regard to medical stuff, but it's important to understand and accept the penalty for which ever decisions are made. You and the Mrs. are in my thoughts and prayers.

Posted by: DeAnn at May 14, 2016 7:41 PM

Thank you DeAnn.

Posted by: ghostsniper at May 15, 2016 12:17 PM