Ca. 1972. A summer night feels like it feels when I wake to the golden ends of your hair along the slope of my spine. A summer night feels like it buried my breath hot into the cool pillow. Your breath on the back of my arm. A summer night feels like it feels to the first hands in the room on my walking stick’s worth of a nude undercovers body. You sing There’s no time to hold a spark. You say Hurry up dreary deary you have to learn where to touch yourself before you blink & disappear in the dark
Denver I.C.U. There are ten rhythms on the screen over your shoulder. I see graphs. I know the area under the slope of the line is the good news. I know there’s a button to invert the program. I have one on my stereo. Basslines. I see points that jog in sync with different metabolic functions. One’s blood-in, one’s blood-out.
There’s a pie chart for what percentage of air the machine’s putting into you at each heave. A fantastic apparatus. I hold on to cold chrome & let the room twirl around the rhythm of the only lie left in your bottomless bag of tricks: breath.
I go behind the desk to make a phone call and find a big screen with readouts from the patients on the floor. Names written on scraps of cloth tape: Abrams, Gentry, Mendez. . . Pavlich, Xiao. . . I go to the thumbnail for Pavlich: dots dance, lines bump
& start, there’s the pie chart for oxygen into that thing they’re calling your breath. I’ve seen the arrow buttons to the side of the pie. One points up, one down. It’s work. This is someone’s job. This is someone’s sister. This is someone’s life. And someone’s death.
I blur my eyes like you taught me to do: “Try to focus on something inside your eyeball. . .” The names go away & I think, one of these cipher-sets is my big sister? One of them is someone’s brother. Does Mendez have a brother? Maybe. You taught me, Kate, inside-out, what a big sister means. The rest is apparatus. I’ve no sound in my body for the arm of a brother. My brothers all came later. From elsewhere.
The nurse turns to me and her mouth moves. She chews her tongue and I read her lips. She tells me that the machines breathe for my sister. I told her that is a lie. My lips don’t move. It’s not her fault.
And I wonder if there’s a person alive who knows how to expect & remember the warmth of Xiao’s weight, her calf curled around his leg? Or hers. Spoons in a drawer. The taste of pollen caught in her eyelash. The owner of a sable shadow falls off the sheer slope of her face and moves across a sky of bent wooden slats in an uneven floor. Her hands are the color of the sound of a broom, sunlight swept up in an empty room.
From Call It in the Air: Poems by Ed Pavlić, available via Milkweed Editions.