Paul Hastings Wilson

Visiting Blood

We’ve put it off for as long as possible,
but have now been called to come and look at him at last:
a dithering old fart in institutional cotton—
(no tangible relation that I can see
as I watch him
rummaging through the folds in his lap
as if rummaging through failures for a fault.)

I look at him and see only the waste
and a grating obligation for imminent disposal;
no trace of the trumpet or jazz clubs,
the rowdy hipisms I’d remembered—
the spinner of blues and rue,
the ribald anecdotes of richer
but lesser mortals
he’d driven
to tears
a hundred hours a week
in his immaculate Cadillac Fleetwood limousine
with its impudent taillights,
when there was so much more significance
and honor to reap elsewhere
for those in fortune’s favor;
or the cowboy at the family affair
riding and breaking women like horses
with the kids behind him left
gored, tied and wild—
“Paul!” he’d shouted to me across the room
at one of these events when I was a child,
the wicked gleam in his eye visible at that distance,
“Boy, you’re so handsome you’re damn near ugly!”

But he’s sitting, now, in the sun
gazing out over the sea wall with a blanket over his knees
and his tongue curled in his mouth like a bitter stone.

He looks up as the attendant arrives,
his lips quivering after some long-launched arrow of thought,
and watches, as she pours out his breakfast—
tumbling like dried berries into the bowl
banged down before him on the metal tray—
and with a spoon
like a hatchet to his hand
raised over the Circean brew,
he howls and hacks at each one, dunning
for his due,
time with its treasons
and sweeps the insipid gruel to the floor,
knowing time
heals no wounds, knowing
only obscures the reasons.

(I wished him no ill,
but if this is an end
it is one cluttered beyond imagining:
not quiet
nor at peace nor alone in despair,
but maddened by the clang of the world
and within
the crush of darkness,
a blind, muddled madhouse
where the elbows and buttocks of relations
barge in
among the locked closets
and old resentments of the heart.)

Friends estranged
and strangers look in upon him
as they would look upon some enigmatic stone
by the roadside as they passed;
his tongue gone to dust in his mouth
and his throat choked with the ashes
of others’ fire.

And then he sees us.
I want to turn away,
but that old gleam flashes again for a moment
to astonish and hold me

Until at last I see
It isn’t me looking at him
It’s me seeing him looking at me.