Linda S. Gottlieb
A man I’d met the day before stands over me.
I’m lying on my floor and he jerks himself over me,
as tall as he is, he is miles away from me,
and I watch and close my eyes and open them
and lick my lips. The day before, I went home
with a man as old as my mother, and in his apartment
I enjoyed his good books and rich paint
and sucked and swallowed. He was still married
and my breasts felt good and my jeans were still on.
My cousin, you are in the hospital and your four boys
are in school and your husband doesn’t
know anything we know, how we
hate him on Mondays and love the nurses,
and hate the Tuesday nurses and love your husband,
and Wednesday mornings, when he looks
like a man bent and in love and walking
with care, I dream he stands above me,
taller than he is tall, in tight white slacks—
even you wouldn’t have used the word “slacks,”
though you were born in 1963 and could have.
Your four boys wear jeans or shorts or pants.
Your husband had a wife before you,
and other children; how should I know
if he ever called them slacks? In my dream
he stands over me, this man I never liked,
the one who starved your eyes, and I look
up at him, his crotch in my face. I turn away.
If his slacks hadn’t been white,
or it hadn’t been a dream,
I would have pressed my face into them
right into their heat and not thought twice,
and not thought of you, my love, my sweet cousin,
oldest in the family and the youngest to be sick,
news of your tumor, the trouble with night driving
and day driving and headaches suddenly explained.
A month before, in health and appetite, you talked
about getting a divorce from your husband
and moving from Long Island to North Carolina,
with plans as delicious as cherries.
Every day in the hospital, your mother gives
your husband lessons: how to feed you
and how to sit you up, how to talk to you,
how to wake you up. You had been famished,
waiting so long for someone to come
or someone to go, and you plotted the future
at your kitchen table with me. You bought land
in North Carolina and told us all, your eyes
rich with plot, and your mother talked
and talked and talked you out
of divorce and you stayed put.
Every day in the hospital, your mother
hates your husband. The lessons she doesn’t
give: how to charm nurses; how to display sorrow;
how to leave your children at home;
how to put one leg and then another leg
into a pair of pants and go. You stayed put.
If you open your eyes and if you speak
on a Thursday, and if you spoke,
how many sharp, funny things you say to the nurses,
your mother, my aunt, tells me. I lie on my floor
nights, your mother on the phone,
and she tells me you can’t tell the boys apart
and how one son is eating and the other
is starving, how one son stopped washing
and how one son bought you a necklace
your husband accidentally threw away
with your glasses and sneakers and bras
in the move from hospital to rehabilitation
to hospital to hospice. Like fruit left out,
I lie on the floor at night with anyone,
do anything they pick. I take their hunger.
I do not stay or wait or go.
—from Rattle #35, Summer 2011