Sick Bed


Today I rise from it, or at least this is the plan.

I turn my head—not slowly or gingerly—to regard
the midden of balms and anodynes
that is my bedside table.

Their fundamental efficacy is in doubt,
but one must do something.
At the very least they compose a curious collage
suitable as a focal object of meditation.

I remember other bedside tables
covered with other bottles and tubes.
And my dread of the hand
coming to clear them away: the fuzzy
half-sucked lozenges stuck to screws of wax paper,
the stiff wads of Kleenex like strewn lotuses,
the Robitussin bottle with its encaustic of sticky drips.
A book of some kind,
a puzzle, a pen,
a stuffed animal with implacable eyes.

What they bore witness to:
the deep pleasure of the bed
and of the soreness of muscles not used much in days,
the langour of long shadowy afternoons spent staring down
ghosts in the corner of the chamber.

There comes a point when one’s head has swelled
nearly to the parameters of the room,
hair glued to the forehead with sweat,
the point when a cool hand, delicious,
wipes the hair away
and all there ever has been or ever will be
is this forehead and this hand.

But sentimentality has no permanent place
here anyhow.
The hand remains cool in its detritus-clearing
does not waver over its tasks
or the brisk plumpings and smoothings it has come here to do.

It is time to rise up!
The cruelty of all clarion calls
can be heard deep in the brassy command.
No one cares any longer about the ache or the damp hair
or the bottomless need to sink
into the hollow
of the mattress.

It seems as though all caring has come to an end,
forever, and the hand on the forehead is one’s own.
The stuffed animal is gone
but the ghosts are still here.

It is days before garbage pickup
and the Kleenex lotuses, swept into the kitchen bin,
will still be visible for a time
before they’re pulled under the surface
then wilt then wither in the airless dark.


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