You Know Where You Are
Photo by Daniel Jensen
Jeremy Nathan Marks
Larry D. Thomas
Many years ago, I contracted amoebic dysentery while working in Central America. I got sick the last night I was there and it was a terrible night. Then I had the trip home the next day, which involved a small boat, a small airplane flown over the jungle, then a jet.
This happened in a bad year. An uncle died. My father died of pancreatic cancer. Weeks later, both of my grandfather's died a few weeks apart, both from colon cancer. Then I went south and got dysentery.
I couldn't shake it when I got home. I was sick for 5 or 6 weeks. I was hospitalized for a week. This drug didn't work. That drug didn't work. Flagyl in an IV didn't work. There was some discussion of giving me small amounts of arsenic on the theory it would kill the amoeba before it sheared off too many IQ points. I declined, arguing that I clearly had no IQ points to spare. And that I was pretty sure I read somewhere that arsenic is bad for you.
A larger-than-life physician who rounded on me one weekend said, "Jesus, you look like a freaking cholera victim! You don't have some pussy Floridian amoeba! You got yourself a hearty Central American one!" (If any of you are poets working on a poetry collection, I'm giving away the title "Pussy Floridian Amoeba," first come first serve.)
I developed a kind of delusion while I was in the hospital. I became convinced that I had some kind of cancer in my digestive system. They had found the amoeba in my specimens so there was no reason to think I had cancer. Except, I guess, the year I had had. Uncle, Father, Grandfather, Grandfather.
I wasn't allowed visitors in the hospital for fear I was infectious. I don't remember why. I've said that because this was in the 1980s, there might have been a concern I had HIV. That doesn't add up, really, all I know is I couldn't see my wife and small daughters.
Here is what I want to say. I was afraid I was dying. I felt terrible. I was lonely and isolated. I wasn't in a coma and I wasn't on a ventilator. But it was a dark, dark time.
Since then, I've thought a lot about sick people. Really sick people who are afraid of dying and believe they are. Or actually are. I think about people who are afraid to say the things they fear—the dying and their families. I think people are afraid they will conjure up death. A death that already is present and walks alongside us no matter who we are or what the state of our health. But, mostly, I think about scared, sick, lonely people. I think about the view at night out hospital windows, for sick people lucky enough to have a bed there.
Many of us now scoff at the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” I won’t go into it. You know why. So, let’s find another way of saying, I can’t be with you in your suffering now and at the hour of your death, but I have you in my mind and in my heart.
I know I write for all the RHP editors: We hope you and yours are physically well, financially okay, and coping with this tragedy. Thanks to all the contributors to this issue of Right Hand Pointing, #138, "You Know Where You Are."
Gift of the Storm
In slashing rain and wind,
the windows hold; shingles, too.
Trees splinter and electricity
turns sporadic. Hike down the hill.
Check for damage. Beneath oaks,
love has been blown to the ground.
Mistletoe twigs with white lichen
rest among crumpled maple leaves.
The underbelly of bad weather
offers up a fistful of kisses.
Jeremy Nathan Marks
Mais la vraie vie à mon avis est… -Keren Ann
of a river
of her parasol.
Jeremy Nathan Marks
for the real
on a table
cherries set before
The first raindrops that hit the dry pavement
are the only ones you get to know.
They wait for their cloudmates
who will only smudge them
into continuous damp.
You are not the rain.
I am not the pavement.
We are not the clouds.
Life is not the damp.
But since all my poems are about you
then either this is not a poem
or this poem does not exist
or perhaps I have just proven
that you still do.
Larry D. Thomas
As she deftly
swats a fly on her belly
and flicks it toward the gawkers,
her partner probes her fur
with his long black fingers,
pinching fleas with the surgical
efficiency of tweezers.
Now and then he stops,
stares down the gawking humans
and gracefully resumes his thwarted,
private display of affection,
luxuriating on the warm,
padded sunsets of his butt.
A Longing for Natural Behavior
Wolves stir in the distance.
One howl is followed by another.
I dine to the sounds of wilderness,
watch TV with a background
of loud, hungry moans,
fall asleep to back-and-forth banter
of a pack staying in touch
My family are never so vocal,
so clear in how they feel.
If only I could change the bulb,
replace it with a full moon.
All the jonquils were in a row.
She looked up from her planting
to find the woman next to her
still digging. That woman
looked up from her digging
at the woman to her left,
who had hours ago finished
her rows and was now contemplating
how comfortable the jonquils looked
in the garden as a whole.
This trinity of planters
is in reality a painted image.
It depicts the last woman
in a vanishing aura, a breeze perhaps,
meant to keep her in the garden
a bit longer.
I could name the three women
if I thought it would have meaning
for anyone but the three of us.
Meditate and Breathe
In the sanctuary of blue waves
rock the spellbound fish,
so delirious in the cobalt
they cannot also be mindful
of the sky.
In a fathomless night
of sleep and exile,
the sea is violet, the current sings.
After Xing Qui's
"Parting Sorrow: Writing for Someone"
Late in the day
crows and sorrow
The willows along
the pond show some
If we didn't grieve
we wouldn't get old.
I carry my sadness
with me up the stairs,
look into the distance
knowing I won't see you
beyond the mountain.
I look again. Nothing.
After Lu You's
The plum blossoming
near the broken bridge
has no one to love it.
Dusk is falling and,
with it, wind and rain.
Plum is never the first
to flower in spring, but
it is always lovely.
Even when it withers,
when crushed in the mud,
the fragrance stays with us.
Sometimes I stick things in a drawer
not thinking, because I found my sister
in a drawer, after she died: every paperclip
every mismatched earring, held her, her
last gifts to me, and I do not want to be
a dead thing, but I want to be found
Needed past giving—so that every remnant
becomes sacred artifact, becomes a whisper
of the truth—her voice, I miss her voice.
Love Doesn’t Always Glimmer Like a Horse
love doesn’t always marry
sometimes it dies young
leaves children behind
love doesn’t always last
gets traded away before
we know what we had
love passes in the look
in the feel of hands intertwined
love blisters and warts
sags with the weight of
all that is not love
love is insecure, ties
its shoes with double knots
wears a helmet and elbow pads
love is the one stuck with arrows
asking you kindly to apply
pressure to the wounds.
Sitting in the Coffeeshop
I've ordered, and as I wait for
my cappuccino I unpack my rolling papers
my gram of White Widow freshly
purchased at the counter. The skunky
smell of the flowers, sticky in my fingers
as I press them into the shape, hand roll
a joint. My drink served, I sit and sip
draw in my travel journal, light up
inhale, listen to the DJ, who doesn’t even
lift an eyebrow at me. Here, out in the open
nobody shouts hate, nobody dies
and the pain quiets, and I’m okay
for a little while, I’m okay.
On the Skid
There’s only a few inches of snow, but I make it look like arduous work getting to the feeder. Amber wears a look of awe. I guess I don’t need pretend heroics to impress my granddaughter. The kid's life hasn’t exactly been replete with grownups worthy of admiration. Her father I didn't know well, and what I’ve learned isn’t worth remembering.
As for Heather, not too hard to say where I went wrong. She was a sweet girl but pure hell as a teen. I drank heavily in my day, which she must’ve noticed. Never got myself arrested, which I guess passes for bragging in our family. I just wasn’t careful around her. After Laddy, her mom, passed I kept saying how I needed to straighten out. She was just a little girl then. I thought I had time.
Heather’ll get back from rehab changed, and this time it’ll stick. I keep telling myself the same lie because what else can I do. I see Amber’s still watching from the window and all I can think of is helping her avoid that mess.
The feeder’s an old birdbath that the birds abandoned soon after my neighbor got a cat. I fill it up with feed early every morning. I try to do it before the traffic gets bad because the deer always come from down the hill to cross the road. I don’t want to endanger either animals or men if I can help it.
Amber taps her finger against the glass as I near the door. Three deer have come up behind me, already eating with what I'd say is great decorum for animals. She’ll stand there and watch until they take their last bite.
Later that night, it happens.
A screech jolts me awake; the sound of rubber being left on the road. It seems to go too long. Just as I begin to think it’s some kid fishtailing up the hill, there comes the crunch of metal and shattering glass.
Amber springs out of bed with an alarmed cry. I try to race ahead and prevent her from seeing what I’m sure we'll find; a wounded deer limping back across the road. When I get to the window, it takes me a beat to realize what’s happened. When I do, I can only wish it was a deer.
“Sweetie,” Heather screams, staggering from the white car someone was dumb enough to lend her, probably some loser she met at a bar. Blood streams down her face. She looks worse than the last time I saw her, when she was half-crazed on booze and who knows what else. “Come to Mommy.” She’s about to cry. Her face crinkles up like a mask that’s been there too long.
Amber stands frozen at the window. I try to move her away, but she won’t budge. I go to open the door, but she locks it as soon as she sees my hand move.
I speak from an outside
skull, only to discover
what it means to be cleft.
Words I find profound
spin in cinema of crania.
I long to be Samson
on silver tray, impacted
tooth. I settle behind shades.
How did this black hole,
compressed, take hold?
I expand on a too-small neck.
What am I seeking
through this hammocked
helmet? Does sky contain
contemplative stars or are heavens
ocular, hair root, also pain?
Each time we moved to a new army base, our parents bought my brother and me discounted Halloween masks, long rolls of frazzled fabric, and helped us patch together wrestling costumes, so we could lariat and stage dive like the leather-skinned Randy Savage and the scar-streaked Kane we loved to watch on TV. Friends vanished, like a referee when the chairs start flying across the ring, but each backyard a new arena—each laundry line and rust-hued hose a prop to use as we flailed our pipe-cleaner limbs against one another. Each time father told us to stuff our suitcases, we sulked into our rooms, and quietly stained our sheets with streaks of snot and tears. But in the ring, we suited up in Darth Vader masks and make-shift leotards, then bruised our bodies red and Hulk-Hogan-yellow. Our Walmart-blue boombox blasting AC/DC in the corner as we swung our tiny fists against each other, two brothers grappling in the mud, holding each other the only way we knew how.
When It Comes to Overcoming
I’ve been watching the quail, and
I see it now ... we’re like that—
when it comes to overcoming, we don’t
fly up and over the fence until the last minute—
until something creeps from under a
thicket and really spooks us. A thought,
a possibility, a hint of danger—
those only make us run faster along the
perimeter ... but how far and how fast we do
run, until we finally flap our stubby wings.
The Way to Dusty Death
Ducks are swimming
in Rome’s fountains,
in Venice’s canals.
The loud sun blinds
with cold, slimy energy.
Rudolph Hess, the only
inmate in Spandau Prison,
was 93 years old when
he hanged himself in his cell.
On a train bound for nowhere
you know where you are.
photo by Kate LaDew
A Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, Kelsey Bryan-Zwick is a Spanish/English speaking poet. Disabled with scoliosis from a young age, her poems often focus on trauma, giving heart to antiseptic language of hospital intake forms. Writing towards her new collection, Here Go the Knives, find her at www.kelseybryanzwick.wixsite.com/poetry.
Robert Carr is the author of Amaranth, published in 2016 by Indolent Books and The Unbuttoned Eye, a full-length 2019 collection from 3: A Taos Press. His poetry appears in the American Journal of Poetry, Bellevue Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Massachusetts Review and Rattle. Robert is poetry editor with Indolent Books. robertcarr.org
Jean-Luc Fontaine is a Tucson-based writer who enjoys long train rides and hot coffee. He is a part-time teacher and a part-time grocery bagger.
Howie Good, who is in self-imposed exile on Cape Cod, is a longtime and regular contributor to RHP.
Jason Graff’s debut novel Stray Our Pieces, published by Waldorf Publishing in the fall of 2019, concerns a woman extricating herself from motherhood. heckler, about lives colliding at a struggling hotel, was published by Unsolicited Press in January of 2020. He lives in Richardson, TX, with his wife and their son.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Transcend, Dalhousie Review, and Qwerty with work upcoming in Blueline, Hawaii Pacific Review and Clade Song. John was one of our earliest contributors and his work has appeared here many times.
Jeremy Nathan Marks lives in London, Ontario. Recent work is found at On the Seawall, Dissident Voice, New Verse News, Unlikely Stories, Barren Magazine, Literary Orphans, Apricity, The Culture of Winds, and 365 Tomorrows.
Joy McDowell is a graduate of the University of Oregon. She lives on Sky Mountain overlooking the McKenzie River. Her work was recently published in Willawaw, Terra Incognita and appears in several anthologies. She likes all things small because she is five feet two inches in height.
Irene Mitchell’s fifth poetry collection, Fever, was published by Dos Madres Press, 2019. Formerly Poetry Editor of Hudson River Art Magazine, Mitchell is known for her collaborations with visual artists and composers. She was a summer 2019 Associate Artist in Residence at The Atlantic Center for the Arts.
Tom Montag's books include: Middle Ground; The Big Book of Ben Zen; In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013; This Wrecked World; The Miles No One Wants; Love Poems; and Seventy at Seventy. He blogs at The Middlewesterner. With David Graham he recently co-edited Local News: Poetry About Small Towns.
Michael Olenick lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, son, and wife's ashes. His work has recently appeared in Euphony Journal, Offcourse Literary Journal, R.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal, and Streetlight Magazine. He's not sure of the difference between a journal and a magazine but he's happy to appear in either.
Brian Rihlmann was born in New Jersey and currently resides in Reno, Nevada. He writes free verse poetry, and has been published in The Blue Nib, Cajun Mutt Press, The Rye Whiskey Review, and others. His first poetry collection, Ordinary Trauma, (2019) was published by Alien Buddha Press.
Larry D. Thomas, a longtime contributor of poetry to RHP, is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and served as the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate.