For Michael Pandel
In a pub toasting your too-late birthday, I
imagine your eyes purpled and shut,
unlike plums but yielding,
spoiling into the hard ground of your cheekbones
the rise and fall of the respirator, not
your chest, the Morse code that divided
your breaths; shortshort shortshort
clicking like a spent film reel, and you
swerving off the screen.
A month later you stir my dreams, unwind
bike chains, rot of grease, of grass.
I take the whiskey from the shelf and taste
asphalt in every gulp, weigh the heft
of the bottle like a pendulum, leftright,
find its tipping point and smell burnt
rubber. My vision now blurred enough
to see your bicycle careen through my hallways.
I finger the bottle as if it were a car
bumper, the contact of it, your legs displaced, thrown
over handlebars. In the kitchen I crack an egg
to mend my throbbing hangover, pour its
sloppy contents into the pan, glad suddenly
for your helmet, that we could place you upright
in a hospital bed to unconsciously accept
your goodbyes before the blood lost its way
to your brain—but also before I made it
from the Hallmark to the hospital, unaware
of my lateness, of the double meaning of that word.
I can’t look at the armchair anymore,
where once we locked legs and arms
and pushed our sadness into the center of each other.
The chair looks too much like a throne, and I
can’t bear this crown, that my body persisted
through the winter. One day you had organs
and the next your mother signed them to new fathers.
She didn’t know us, all forty or more of us in the waiting
room, we who followed you into your darkness—drove you
home from bars, placed lowballs in your palm, put our mouths
around your genitals. That must be how she cataloged us
when she recited how they’d take your lungs,
your kidneys, your eyes.
I wondered if they would leave your liver?
How fast a year passes. How many intersections
have I crossed without hearing my card in the spokes
of your white bike, tucked beside all those letters
you didn’t read, like your tongue tsk tsk calling
my cat at the porch door. Bike wheels turning
under their weight, the small metal frame
of you, the time spent selecting a card,
my fear of hospital sounds,
the ventilator, and now your pedaling,
counting out the minutes.