The Man in the Chair
I glanced in as I walked past
the door of the room where he sat
in the easy chair with the soiled area
along the top from the olive oil.
I think I noticed something—
a rigidity in the torso, making it
unable to settle into the cushions,
or a slackness in the neck,
causing the head to tilt forward,
or a shaking in the lifted left fist,
as though he were pushing a hammer
handle back with all his force, to pull
a spike driven nineteen years before
the end of the nineteenth century
into lignum vitae so dense the steel
may have cried out in excruciated singsong,
or an acute angle in the knees,
as if he were holding his feet inches off
the floor to keep them from a whitish
wash of mist from some freshly
dug pit simmering across it,
or the jerk of a leg, as if a hand
just then had reached up through the floor
and tried to grab it. I think I noticed,
yet I did not stop, or go in, or speak.
For his part he could not have spoken,
that day, or any day, he had a human
version of the pip, the disease that thickens
birds’ vocal cords and throttles their song.
I had it too, no doubt caught from him,
and I could not speak truly except
to the beings I had invented far within.
I walked past, into my room, shut
the door, and sat down at the desk,
site of so many hours lost
passing one number through another
and drawing a little row of survivors on top.
while my mother sat across from me
catching my mistakes upside down.
I wrote, and as I did I allowed
to be audible in the room only
the scritches of the pen nib, a sound
like a rat nosing around in the dark
interior of a wall, making a nest of shreds.
All other sounds, including the words
he never said to me, my cries to him
I did not make, I forced down
through the paper, the desk, the floor,
the surface of the earth, the roof
of that dismal region where they stood,
two or three of them, who had reached up
and had him by the foot, and were pulling hard.