The Color Green
in memory of Mark O’Brien
Two floors up, at the corner of Hearst and Oxford,
he's clamped for good
in an iron lung. When it's time to eat
he inches 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.