Circling the Drain
At emergency, the doctor says he has
never seen drug levels this high
in a still-living person.
You complain to me about uncaring nurses,
their indifference, the way they treat you
like another sick junkie.
Today’s botched suicide is just one more.
I’ve witnessed the delusions and paranoia,
watched you convulse in other hospital beds.
I am the exhausted buffer between you
and our elderly parents who want you
clear-eyed and coherent again.
I clean your apartment, gather Fentanyl patches,
empty vials from multiple physicians,
flush your prized poisons, watch them circle the drain.
Morning and night, I talk to therapists.
You are one more bitter pill
on an overwhelming plate.
This time, you’re going to make it, you tell me.
It will be completely different. Your promises are
white noise to my hardening heart.
Previously published in Voices in Italian Americana
You leave behind a crucifix
woven of hospital bracelets
pinned above the twin bed.
Packed two changes of clothes,
a notebook with addresses
of outpatient clinics.
You wheel your 83-year-old father
down a hall past convulsing junkies
to where the barely-detoxed
and institutional staff
await your arrival.
Reluctant witnesses watch
from front row seats,
evidence of family,
years without overdosing.
After 28 days, you have bottomed out,
practice that first shaky step,
What He Brought Home
At 1 a.m. he pulls a k-bar knife
from beneath the pillow,
pushes himself off his mattress,
patrols the house perimeter.
Silently, he glides down the hallway,
checks every window and door.
He sleeps lightly since his return from the Nam,
hides a baseball bat, keeps nunchucks under the bed.
Ripping at his fingernails,
he describes finding staked men
left to rot in the jungle heat,
each layer of their skin slowly peeled off.
He keeps curtains drawn, his back against the wall.
Anything can trigger another flashback:
windy rainstorms coupled with sirens,
the t.v. image of a wood-pierced vampire.
His bare hands gouge a foxhole
into a flowerbed within which to hide.
Only booze and dope
temporarily block vivid memories:
booby-traps, ambushes, atrocities.
Coma, the silver cross he depends on,
repels persistent phantoms
overrunning his nights.