Two floors up, at the corner of Hearst and Shattuck,
he’s clamped for good
in an iron lung. When it’s time to eat
he nudges his head a sweaty mile
to the edge of the pillow. It takes a while.
His brilliant bloodshot light-blue eyes
steer me from cupboard to fridge:
he would like his chicken burrito
cut into bite-size pieces,
a bent straw for his glass of water, please.
How does the body live its only life
in a cage? I watch him compute the distance
from bar to bar, and squeeze
with a violent compression, a fury of bursting free
that doesn’t last.
His will is a crowbar, angled to pry up
the rooted intractable weight
of matter. I watch him slyly, I check out
the way he does it. He
does it. But pain in its absolute privacy
weighs what it weighs.
I come here to study the soul, posing one question
a dozen ways, most of them silent.
“If I’m only a body,” he laughs,
“I’m up shit creek.” His laugh
a gritty eruption of rock, salt and breath.
Like me he writes poems
but he does it letter by letter
on a propped keyboard, the mouth-stick
wobbling between his teeth.
That kind of speed keeps a poet accountable.
He won’t ever say, “The grass is very green”
when it’s only green.