One Second = Two Lifetimes

I never wanted to make the decision. Who would? But being who I am in the order of things, it fell to me to decide when to let her go.

“Well, what do you wish us to do?” the doctor asked, with a benevolent demeanor, but a double-parked, motor-running, it’s 4:58 on Friday vibe coming off him. I could feel his inner toes tapping.

You don’t really think about making this decision, deciding life or death for someone you love. But you know what you have to do in the second, maybe half-second they ask you. You just tend to think about the other things as a diversion.

What’ll the family say? How can I face myself day after day after the deed is done? Can I live with being the instrument of another being losing her life?

You look up at the professionals and their eyebrows have that inverted V droop of a practiced medical professional.

“There’s no coming back from this,” the doctor said, meaning her condition, just lying there. But there’d be no coming back on my end, either. “It’s painless, she won’t feel a thing. It’s what she would want.”

You feel like your boiling as you stand still for that second or less, three heartbeats replacing the one that normally fills that space. Allegro.

“Okay, let’s do it,” I say as my eyes get all mushy and moist and my throat locks in the words and out the air.

The doctor does what he does, practiced, assured, always ready. And then, we wait. It really doesn’t take long, but a lot of life flashes before your eyes when you’re the one deciding. The guest of honor just closes her eyes, takes a few deep breaths and…. She’s gone.

In that second, though, everything changed for me. Emotions began living closer to the surface, and I noticed and reveled in more of life humming and growing and ebbing all around me. All from one second of indecision to decision.

It gave me a harder shell, too, though. I was graced with the same decision for my Dad not even a year later. Outwardly cool, I’m sure the weepers around me thought me an unfeeling bastard.

The doctor gave his spiel about no coming back, it’s for the best, he has a no-resuscitate order, all that stuff. The same inverted V they teach in Veterinary school they must in Med school, too.

Then came the money shot question, the big one, the life or death one.

“Well, what do you wish us to do?”

In a second of fire and freeze, the man in whom a dog’s death changed everything, nodded and said “Okay, let’s do it.”

And then I stood taller, set my jaw, began to breathe again, as the others began to sob. They could never have made this decision, wouldn’t want to. Who would? But, like I said, in less than a second, maybe even half a second, it changed everything. Dammit, everything changed.

I’d cry later.

Here’s a warmup story for Story-A-Day May (God help me!) based on a prompt from my friend Kellie Elmore and her re-energized Free Write Friday. The prompt was to write this story: “It was less than a second, maybe half a second, but it changed everything.”
Twenty minutes of free write later, I came up with this. Not sure it’s a story. Sure as hell ain’t a poem. But it has a character or two, a dilemma with stakes and a change in the character’s world/life in the end. It’s a practice, folks.

Last Rites

An Irish Wake

An Irish Wake

When you lie there in the dark
in the sleep that is not yet sleep,
does the thought ever awaken
(like the pea beneath your mind’s mattress)
what it’d be like to lie in the coffin
within your casket in the not-yet-death?
Do you wonder who’ll come visit
your corporeal self as you, with
maybe one eye slyly peeking, capture
memories as the soon-to-be-tipsy mourners
contemplate, inflate and conflate
your times together, consecrate,
them perhaps with a baptism
of a tear or two?

If the don’t, I won’t judge.
My hands’ll be knotted in someone
else’s damn rosary, so I couldn’t cast
any stones, let alone the first.
But, boy, would I love to roll away
the rock they plant me beneath,
in a fourth-quarter comeback resurrection
just to confirm I saw in your hands
the letters I wrote, even the ones
I never sent, but composed in this,
my warm and waking coffin here in the dark,
here in the sleep that’s not yet sleep,
here where it feels so much like death
in my every-night not-quite-life.

Poem Number 13 of poem-a-day NaPoWriMo 2016. This one prompted by a call for a “Last (Something)”-titled poem. Yeah, I went there. Not sure if this is an egomaniacal exercise or just another potential disappointment captured in verse.

Lucky Guy

When the old vet told me about his
first experience in a fire-fight,
when a metal-jacket bullet
ripped through his khaki jacket,
I asked him if he saw it.
“Saw what?” he asked.
“Your life flash before your eyes,” I said.
“Hell, no, sonny,” he said. “That didn’t
even happen in jump school
when the guy behind me’s silk
pulled a Mae West on top of me
for a couple thousand feet.
I don’t think it actually happens.”
Well, I figured he should know.
But I had to check. I didn’t see it either.
Not when some punk sliced that knife
through my shirt in that dark
Third Street hallway. And all I saw
were circles of steel probably big
as my eyeballs when that farmer
pushed his revolver in my face
while I tried taking a photo of possible
illegal picking his apples.
I’m not sure who came up with that
trope of your life passing before your eyes
in that instant you feel you might die
Possibly he was inexperienced in the true
sweating-like-three-whores-in-church-
from-the-waist-down, piss-your-pants,
flash-of-heat-from-head-to-toe-and-back-up-again
experience of perceiving imminent death.
Lucky guy.

Poem Number 5 for poem a day April. And Experience/Inexperience poem…I think.

The Shoes You Only Wear in This Rain

Muddy-shoes

They’re falling all around me now,
the large and small, old and young,
so many that it feels like
the rains in Spring, their passing,
the sound of water dripping,
falling off the eaves of my heart.
And still I’m here, chronicling
what I don’t think I want to know.
Is there a light you lope after?
Or do you fly like a moth until then?
Does the light, all of it, just go out?
Not a flicker, nor a dimming. Just…
nothing.

These unusual secrets my raindrops
took with them when they fell,
even though I watched and listened
when some of them did.
It wasn’t just a ping on a tin roof
followed by a plop in the muddy puddle
of their mingling with earth.
It was natural, gravity winning out
over angels’ wings, the wings that wrung
these showers from those clouds,
that rat-a-tatted on the corrugated
prayers you huddle beneath,
that collect on your cheeks and spatter
the blessed mud of their ashes
on the shiny shoes you only wear
in this spate of rain.

There have been just too many over too short a time, and I can’t take any more.

It’s Been Two Years Now

It’s been two years now.

The full-face moonlight falls
in rigid rays against my body,
casting shadows so dense I can
hear them rustle the leaves
upon which they stretch.

It must be the shadows, because
there’s no cold wind to torment me
as on all the other November nights
since then.

But I would suffer them all,
the prickly chill upon my cheeks,
the waking moan of the westbound
disturbing our sleep,
just to have you with me
here one more time.

I regret all the times I’d scold you
for the midnight wake ups.
My heart playing the role
of numb somnambulist who didn’t
understand you’d be gone so soon.

Not until it was tenderized with
the club of reality from
those last visits,
when I had to assist you
into and out of the car.

Then came that last time, hefting you in
and the great weight I carried home
and sense even today, of never needing
to lift you again. Nor you lifting me.
That’s why I’m out here tonight.

I carry the gravity of your loss
in my chest. It’s a warm gravity,
so crushing I want to lie beneath it
in my shadow, in a forever dark
and never rise until we can run together
in some lovely lonely nighttimes again.

The Sons of Shem

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The Arapaho boys came across the dead body of the Rev. Linus Quimby wrapped in a wool blanket at the bottom of a buffalo wallow, a thick book clutched in his frozen hands and an expression of joy upon his face.

“It is already the Moon When the Buffalo Calves’ Noses Turn Brown and the first snow came last night, so to find a man, even a foolish white man, traveling without a horse or even a dog to carry his provisions shows he was as crazy as he looks,” said the younger boy, taking the blanket from the would-be missionary.

“Look at the useless fire he made of these white skins with markings, not the leavings of the buffalo or even a stick from the trees on the banks of the Niinéniiniicíihéhe’, only two days ride from here,” said the older boy, as he relieved his brother of the blanket and Rev. Quimby of a knife and a piece of flint.

After riding east until the sun had almost reached its highest point, the boys found the remains of Rev. Quimby’s horse being picked clean by coyotes and birds, stripped of its saddle by a roaming band of Cheyenne hunters and with more of those marked skins scattered on the yellow grass in the melting snow.

If the boys could read, they might notice one that was dated two days before, November 20, 1830, and it said: Last night I burned all my maps, Psalm 23 and First Thessalonians from my Bible, my Lord God, because where I am going in Your name, I have faith You shall guide me, help me lead the sons of Shem back to you, and we shall never be lost again.

A story of unrelenting faith, based on Lillie McFerrin’s prompt word, Maps

Rules of the Game

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The rules of the game
are set in stone.
You can read them
written on each slab
out there on the field.
The great game is summed up
in four numbers on one side,
and four on the other,
of a grooved hyphen.
Funny how those hyphens,
from end to end,
are the width of an N or M,
but a life may be wider
than a thousand thousand alphabets
or as narrow as an I.

You think of these things,
the unwritten,
the randomly ordered
string of letters,
of words, of stories,
of a life lived in
what seems like a hyphen,
a momentary there to here,
then to now,
once to once,
when you sit by a deathbed,
in front of a casket, or
at a graveside.
That’s where they post
the rules for all to see
and no one’s ever broken.