Nebraska Center for Writers

BEDRIDDEN — for JJ
by Joseph R Phelan

Her breathing hoarse as raven's cries
fills my ear, pressed
against the warm and sweaty phone

I hear JJ's bed rustle like wings
birds in flight
migrating across a mirage ocean
outside my living room window
Stellar Jays, wild turkeys, robins, a pair
of California quails,
and that unknown
white breasted spotted large bird, again.
"my dream life opens the window ...
haven't eaten in a month, can
you believe it?" I can't
I search for avian names
in the book she gave me, Christmas 1999,
when her legs held her upright
before she phoned
and named the cancer, pancreatic,
that uninvited, invaded
" ... brown
leather
jacket ...,
the one with fringe," she tells me,
1966 I recall
tree swallows — I think
and a male northern flicker dig
for grubs in a rotted tree stump
"I give myself the right to freak out
if the pain gets too bad," she reminds me,
I'd promised to help her leave. ...


eddies of baby quails circle
around their mothers, there's always one
that stays behind
her words slur like the cooing
of doves — songs run together
morphine memories
I look at the phone
and wish I could reach through the miles of tangled wires
                     switches clicking on and off
                     like the gnawing termites that downed
                     the Cypress outside my window
and stroke her falcon face


just two months ago we examined our appointment books
searching for time
                     she'd promised me a Thanksgiving dinner for my birthday
                     turkey stuffed with homemade cornbread and water chestnut stuffing

tonight I watch the moon slide down
disappearing behind Douglas firs.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2007
by Joseph R Phelan


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