by Steve Gaines

written February 21, 1995

across my room in the other bed
behind the drawn curtain
lies an old man dying without his beard
clinging noisily to one more night of life

he was being put back together again
a new hip to get him down the road a little further
when his heart gave up…
letting go some small crumb
that burst a vessel in his head
and everything stopped while they jumped started him
leaving him for the time being without his right hip
and without his beard of fifty years
because it got in the way
of the new growth of wires and tubes
like vines in some fertile rite of the Spring
designed to continue the functions
he no longer could on his own

his children
all fourteen of them
filter into his semiconscious dream…
move absurdly through his diminished
telling him things he can not hear
bringing their own faces…
like his beardless face…
that no one recognizes
they have come back from a long time ago
into my room… his room
he plays games with their names all night
exhorting their aid beneath his curious prison blankets
where he is strapped in against his feeble attempts
to fly the cage of his
or to escape the misery of his fast fading life…
he sings abstract and curious arias
circling the night like undeveloped memories…
faded photographs of another time

he gets no help from the shadows
he has peopled with offspring
and the nurses bring him only ice water and pain
in their hourly efforts to move him from side to side
to keep his circulation going

for the remainder of the night he serenades
the forth floor east wing
with a litany of names who never answer
cries into the vacuum of a dying light
and a soft October night
where I lay… not yet dying
sleepless and also without my beard of many years…

and I think quietly to myself…
I will grow it back soon!
and try my best not to die…
for a while
so my many progeny may forego a trip
to some sad ending of an old man.

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