On Harold’s dying young


Email to Al Sullivan




I came forty miles to see his face,

his jaw nibbled like the end of a pencil


his eyes drawn in, a small town sidewalk

with dark lawns squeaking of empty

porch swings


even the pain had abandoned him,

a natural lobotomy dumping him

face down on the living room floor


old ashes and cigarette butts

dog hair and urine,

bubbling like a drunk


(Those thousand nights

of stumbling home from village bars

had not prepared them for this)


He looked now like a baby

twisted onto one good side,

with all life yet to happen


his Republican past as limp as his arm,

all of it boiling in the tube of science

attached to his veins


preserving his suspended animation

indefinitely, his eyes last to numb, saying

He'd come farther than 40 miles to get here.





He died at 6 p.m.,

clanging bells sounding

from the hospital chapel,

his son/lover leaping up the steps from the street,

phone still ringing in his head,

Harold calling for him to come

as if he would wake,

as if the harbinger would

give him one more moment alone

before stealing his soul,

after weeks in a coma,

after processions of brothers,

sisters, loves and friends,

after all the sad pronouncements of doctors

saying he'd never wake again,

the bell drawing his eyes open

for one precious moment

and his lips into a dying smile.





His eyes were cold and empty,

a beach-head of dead shells

and hollow crab claws

abandoned by the gulls,

the cleft of his chin, the well,

from which water was drawn,

beach house and drooping porch,

crows-nest flag pole stuck

in the sand, and his hand

upon my shoulder, pressing

me for luck, as the nurses

wheeled him into the eye

of the hurricane.





It is not the death bed

that takes you,

the brittle air of people

standing at your side,

wooden indians bearing

flowers instead of cigars,

the cancer of dying

in their eyes,


Blind and bitter children

cursing the moment of birth


Better still-born like your sister,

they say,

then to know these thoughts of you.


Carrion, swearing beneath their breath,

as you look up into their faces,

bloody-eyed, pillows propped high

behind your back


You with chronic cough

and perpetual pot of coffee,

you, who leaves us at the door

step to face that same fate

without you.





Even two years later,

they still think of you,

as the man bubbling on the floor,

the excess of your horror movies

brewing inside your head,

Your lover, adopted son's soul

hunched over your dying eyes

like a slowly descending vulture,

asking after your health

as his fingers rifled your pockets

And me, that distant prodigal child

howling like a psychic dog,

feeling the moment

when the alcohol finally burned

the last bright cell from your brain,

knowing by heart the meaning of your passing,

knowing there would never be another

fuddled man like you.




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