“While My Husband Is in Foot Surgery During a Pandemic, I Watch Footage of the Lake Fire” by Jean Prokott

Jean Prokott


as it chars 10,000 acres, 0% contained.
fire tornadoes, which I just learn exist, suck
everything inside to feed a hungry burn.
lately, we have become very good

at burning and throwing things away,
inhaling smoke damage of want versus
need. we hauled three truckloads of trash—
the rug the dogs obliterated with shit,
the bottom-rusted fire pit,
closet doors detached from the rail—
to the dump and paid the city

to take our rotten leftovers.
we found a nice rake in the dumpster
so brought it home. when we burned
the garden we’d ripped up,
we accidentally set the lawn on fire
and created a bald spot of dirt,
so we used the rake to comb
the fresh grass over it. in fact,

it’s my husband’s toe arthritis.
his tiny bones have been rubbing
and leaking fluid: his aging’s attempt
to escape his body. the cartilage
will never return. his choice
is either surgery during a pandemic,
or a lost toe and flip-flops
that look wrong.

I know it’s just his toe,
but the purpose of toes
is so we can find our balance
and bear our own weight.
the nation is missing its toes
and my husband will be fine.
the word fine is a gift.

my father-in-law sent his will
yesterday, alongside t-shirts,
a Disney ticket stub, a dice game
about pandas, and pictures of
Christmas 1996 in front of
a stockinged fireplace. we had that
same wrapping paper, I tell my husband.
and wow, your father still wears those
same shoes, which are alligator texture
and tassel. he’s in Florida,
immunocompromised, has fired
his nurse, ventures to Walmart
when food runs low. in the cereal aisle,

he asks a young woman to help him
with his shoe and falls over while she
adjusts it. I imagine him in the middle
of a disrupted galaxy, except celestial
is fire, and stars are ash, and ash
is the virus begging for our lungs. 2020,

even those of us pacing at home
have lost a year, a tax write-off
of our lives. 750,000 of the dead
have lost five years, ten, fifty.
you shouldn’t talk about dreams,
but last night in mine a stranger’s baby
hugged me tight. I dreamt everything
was okay and am terrified by it,
because the word okay is a miracle.
in his anesthesia dreams,

my husband finds Plato’s World
of Forms and learns shadow isn’t
enough. his body and my body
and your body will join him.
in this World, everyone is alive.
we’re all walking through the forest,
we’re pointing to the smoke,
and pine needles are crunching
like matchsticks under our feet.

from Poets Respond
August 16, 2020


Jean Prokott: “My husband had surgery on his foot, and I wasn’t allowed to go to the hospital because of Covid–instead I paced the rug at home and watched images of the Lake Fire burn down Angeles National Forest: another tragedy, another metaphor.” (web)

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