December 16, 2020

Chad Frame

SMOKING SHELTER

Outside the hospice ward of the VA Medical Center in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

Easter, and the glass enclosure’s clouded 
like a rheumy eye. Old men are smoking,
wheezing in their service hats and wheelchairs.

We’ve brought my father’s dog. I know it’s not 
a man’s dog, he announces, chihuahua
resting on the blue quilt draped on his lap.

That’s a great dog anyway, says Cecil, 
his rumbling basso hoarse with settled phlegm. 
Looks about the right size for a football.

We lost our last one. What starts as laughter
in both throats turns to rasping, then wet coughs,
echoes from a deep well. My father says,

I hear come October we’re not allowed
to smoke here anymore. He looks at me. 
You’ll get me out of here before then, right?

But before I can answer, another 
chair-bound man slowly scoots over to us, 
tells my father, You look just like Jesus. 

I guess I can see it. The hair, the beard, 
the starvation, sallow skin, scroll parchment
stretched thinly over wooden finials.

You suffer like he did, he continues.
But I can’t heal you guys, my father says.
I wish I could. Another coughing fit.

You need something? my mother asks, reaching 
in her purse. Yeah, he says, wiping his mouth 
with a trembling hand. An Enditol pill.

I wonder, What will be your last pleasure?
A parking lot view, a few puffs, warm breeze, 
smelling secondhand gas station chicken? 

He is risen, and I realize each thing 
opens at its own pace—our hearts, the first 
spring blooms, church-bound women in yellow hats.

from Rattle #69, Fall 2020

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Chad Frame: “I wanted to chronicle different aspects of the process of my father dying, from terminal diagnosis to paperwork to day-to-day feeding him in hospice. Writing about what was happening was honestly the only thing that got me through it, and I hope it can be helpful in some way to anyone going through something similar. It was an awkward time, yet beautiful in the way a relationship between an only child, introverted, gay poet son and a divorced, alcoholic, disabled Vietnam veteran father can be. When it was over, I was left with a pickup truck, two Purple Hearts, a box of ashes, a triangularly folded flag, and a stack of poems. I’m not sure which I treasure most.”

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