He’s sleeping in his bed, one leg uncovered, running shoe half off, the sun
not even up yet.
He grew tired of waiting. I know
he’s sleeping even as I stand at the elevators; his snores can penetrate steel.
I push open the door to his small room, his breathing
suspended in apnea
I wait :
It comes like a long piece of cardboard ripping from top to bottom.
Two quick inhales and a return to steady snores. His pills
know how to keep him.
I shake his shoulder; his eyelids pull open, one at a time: nightglue.
I put a tin of sardines in his vest pocket.
One of his paintings hang on the wall, next to his bed:
“Vermeer’s light comes only from a window. See,” he says, pointing, as I pass him his teeth.
The lacemaker’s uninterested.
Her head bends, two fingers, two needles, two threads making lace on polished oak.
She’s used to his noises.
Exercises are posted under his painting,
to keep his left side from atrophy
bend knee up, straighten knee down, bend knee up, straighten knee down, bend knee up
One of my hands holds his ankle, the other under his knee
weight of a fallen branch.
He looks up at the ceiling.
His eyes watering.
“Don’t hold your breath,” I say. “And no holding the side of the bed!”
He used to walk the tightrope with these two legs; a steel wire
strung like a clothesline in front of his cottage on the edge of Erie’s eroding shoreline.
He’d hop on the wire like it was a bus, swaying catching balance
stepping forward and back, balancing a broom on his nose, rings spinning fire on his arms.
“Swaying side to side makes the old ladies scream,” he says. Laughing.
“Boats came in from Ashtabula to see me.”
bend knee up, “yeah right,” straighten knee down, bend knee up, straighten
He lived alone with his paintings and books and unpredictable shoreline
“One Christmas I strung candy-coloured lights around me from head to toe and walked the wire.
Damn near fell in the lake.
The neighbours had to come round to untangle me.”
Fresh pants clean shirt nylon jacket. Combing his hair makes him still.
I put his feet into his shoes, left ankle swollen to a stump, wheelchair
opens like a story he never expected.
Leaving his small room, I glance at the lacemaker and her window of light:
she doesn’t bother to look up.