“Flu Season and a Living Will” by Charles Manis

Charles Manis



I have a scratch in my throat—they say that’s the first sign.

Or the flutter of the sphincter, the sweat that smells of green onion,
singed cuticle, shed eyelashes.

I climb up the stone stairs from my apartment
and my nostrils blister dry, the wind flinging ice in my eyes.

I wake to frost each morning. I wake
to my rattling radiator. It dry heaves tepid air. My cinder block walls
ice my apartment—I open my books with a pick.

My mother’s living will names me “executioner,”
she and my sisters joke. I have forsaken scarves and gloves, hot tea and soup.

I walk in the traffic-grey slush alongside the road and it soaks me to my knees.


The motherfuckers don’t wash their hands, is the problem.
Shit-stained doorknobs and jism-stroked water fountains, is the problem.
Snot wiped on the bottoms of tables and spit-palmed handshakes.

Twice a week they fuck a stranger in the shower
and neglect to brush their teeth.

I am sick of your breath in the corridors.
I am sick of your hot crotches and beating eyelashes in the waiting rooms.
I am sick of your yellow-fungused tongue and your marbled skin.

Here comes our staph infection, our pink eye, our strep throat.
Here comes our cancer, growing on its platter.
My stomach strains for bile.


All my loved ones have white blood cells gnawing on their ligament.
They are all chemically imbalanced. Their veins crumble. Their skins spot.

Let me rave with you.

This year I give up green vegetables,
eat gizzards fried in a high-walled cast iron skillet over my open mouth.

I eat tubers besotted with yellow clay.

My dozen sisters make for me wreaths of fingernails, a sand box full of my dry skin.
They bless me with fine ornaments.

They would like to know my medical history.
They scold me for the lumps I never told them I had, mark each aberration with red ink.

They would like a scalpel now.
We will take another glass of wine, the one with the poppy aftertaste.

Let me prod the oak carcass smoldering in the fireplace.
I steal another log from the spiders.


By February everybody coughs up bricks of ice.
They scrape the frozen spit from the corners of their mouths.

There is a four-inch heel frozen in a pothole gritty with exhaust and gravel.
I chop the whole block free with my squared palm and carry it home,
where it stays frozen on my mantle.
I sleep with my feet uncovered and wait for a chill to take hold of me.

I would cough up blood.
I would beat my swollen hands against these perforated walls.
I would eat through the connective tissue that holds my muscle in the shapes that pump blood.

Let my marrow ravage me until I can’t walk, until I must crawl on my elbows, drag my ribs,
worm my way to the hospital bed, and I would still pull the plug,
but I would do it from the floor—I would do it choked on mucus.


I’ll pull your plug too, Darling. Tell me where and when.

This is what I can do for you.
I believe in your right to die.

This is love, say my dozen sisters.
This is love, croons a stray dog in the long-frozen yard.

Where is my black hood? Where is my piano wire?
It is my deep love for you—the way it cuts my hands and your chafed throat.

from Rattle #36, Winter 2011


Charles Manis: “My first semester in college, I crowded into an auditorium full of students, faculty, and various other folks around town who had come to hear Charles Simic read. After we filled up the seats and the floor, a line formed through the doors and into the hall outside the auditorium. That night I walked back to my dorm trying to hold onto lines that Simic had read to us, and the next semester I enrolled in my first courses in writing and reading poetry. I hope only to write something that somebody will want to remember.”

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