In spite of doctor’s orders, she ate meat
and greasy fried potatoes after weeks of eating
nothing but miso and rice for a bleeding colon,
hiding her meds, most nights curled at the edge
of oblivion. Or she would rise from bed in terror
until I flicked on the light, opened the closet door
wide enough to see no jewel thief inside,
her one black boot overflowing with diamonds
and gold where she’d left it. I wanted to think
of our sharing a booth at the Burger King,
wanted to think of her hunger as the opposite
of depression. How could I forget stories
of the little girl her father called Cotton
singing and twirling on top of a bar table
for his drunken friends? I didn’t think
of the undercooked meat she’d been raised on,
the fatback cured in salt. Even strung-out,
Dianne dressed up, painted her lips
a deep red the way she would for Daddy.
She put gravity to the test, told me
she tried to hang herself with a belt
too flimsy for the job. I didn’t believe her
even after she gave our cats away,
convinced the white one was a witch,
even after the bad cut and dye job
seared the cotton-candy blonde to orange.
So long as that caustic wit of hers burned,
I thought she’d be okay. The more she chewed
and swallowed, the better she began to look.
The next day coming home with the Times,
I found her, hanging by the neck. Screaming,
I cut her down, tried to break her fall
with outstretched arms. My last moments
with my wife were spent shouting Come back,
giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
But, Lord, so help me, there was a second
when, I swear, her eyes opened and looked
back at me, when her lips unclenched,
as though startled awake she was on the verge
of speech, as if, even then, she had a choice.
—from Rattle #30, Winter 2008