“The Fall” by John Paul O’Connor

John Paul O’Connor


My old friend and I walk down the sidewalk after drinking beer
and whiskey at the pub and despairing over the election of the new
president. Walk is the wrong word, at least for my friend,
who is in a wheelchair he’s occupied since he fell from a roof
thirty-five years ago. We haven’t gone half a block when his front
casters hit the edge of a section of sidewalk heaved up half an inch
and his chair halts with a jolt and he pitches forward and lands
spread-eagle on the concrete. At exactly the same time the toes
of my shoes stumble on the same edge of pavement and I arrive
next to my friend as if we are bunk mates flopping belly first onto
our mattresses. I pick myself up and look at the atrophied legs
crumpled beneath him as he lifts his torso upright and wonders
aloud in a panicked tone whether one of them might be broken.
He wouldn’t know. The pain that comes with crushed limbs
hasn’t lived in his legs for decades. He can’t get himself up
and I don’t have the strength to lift him properly back into the seat
of his chair. Help arrives; stragglers from the nearby bar. He’s back
in his chair and I’m on my feet, humbled that we are two drunks
who have been face down near the gutter. And we are old drunks,
who would appear to most of the world as pathetic and beyond
empathy. Our jeans are torn and dirty and the country of our birth
has just elected a fascist to lead a drunken nation down a road
of frost heaves and potholes toward a cliff. I walk with my friend
to his car, help him make his transfer in front of the steering wheel
and place his chair wheels in the back seat. Then he is gone and
I walk the other way, over the Fremont Bridge, below the misted street
lamps wondering if his legs are all right before I hear my own voice
speaking to the darkened sky, “Well, of course they’re not all right.”

Poets Respond
November 27, 2016

[download audio]


John Paul O’Connor: “The national discussion for the past two weeks has been over this most unusual and shocking presidential election. A couple of friends and I were talking politics over beer, and then, as the mood demanded, bourbon. ‘The Fall’ is about what happened after two of us left the bar.” (website)

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