Your father’s second left foot was three toes short
when he shuffled next to you
on wedding night parquet. He prayed
for months elevating
an ankle to drain that swelling
to fit the patent leather oxfords.
Time before we knew
that remission means victory,
impermanent. When he died in our home
we kept three pairs of hospital socks, a folding commode,
and a crate of vacuum bottles that drained
that choking pleural effusion from his lungs.
I mostly dance with her now, practicing
for some future father-daughter dance,
but I’ve danced next to you at the barre
in a strip mall. Before class you showed me
that subungual streak under your toenail
and as I plié in his hospital socks
and whisper a closed-eyed prayer
my legs shake against the earth
as my whole body remembers
those hospice dance steps with him.
I lose balance again
at our campsite when our daughter climbs
on that bequeathed commode, reflecting
our potty training smiles back at us.
How soon until she flutters glutes at the barre
—after I drain your fluid filled lungs
from weak tea yellow to pale red gel—
next to me in your hospital socks?
I strum campfire bar chords for your shuffle,
her sock feet planted on your old house
shoes. When I talk to God, I talk to myself,
and I don’t know what next we’ll carry.
I crawled into a muddy golem,
and stained everything I touched.
After my life changed
the world wrapped in rayon
crinkled and panned till blurry.
After, my life changed
there was lightning in my mind
and I genuflected in book store aisles.
My life changed
I woke and ran after the moon
only to find the sun-
rise at my backdoor.
Changed, after my life
I leaked twenty years of midlife
from a valve stem behind my ears
and polished the dark stone
hidden in the white box.
Because the storybook
characters in my life
flattened next to me
on the page.
How could you
explain why after my life?
Changed the locks
but we’re in the same house, body,
this man of mind and meat
creeps out of crucible cracks
& the stories we tell ourself bend
closer till they grasp hands
with memories like a trapeze team.
Peter H. Michaels’ poetry is forthcoming from or has appeared in Nimrod, Glass, Poet Lore, and other places. He is a staff poetry reader for The Adroit Journal. His website is peterhmichaels.com.
Artwork by: Robert Collins