1982: He looks like a ranch
hand, skin taut, bowlegged,
hands smell of leather.
The doctor thought it a passing flu.
Now he’s infected with some virus,
our town does not yet know.
Smells like chemicals,
lies in bed all day.
He’s becoming someone else.
He presses himself into the farthest
corner of this cold room
as if he can’t stand to see me.
Turns his blotched face away
if I edge closer.
His skin stretched thin over bones
like buckskin with bullet holes.
I wonder if I have to worry
about catching what he has.
His creased brow’s more worried
than my wondering.
His voice breathes heavy,
lost its low notes last month.
He seethes in his throat
with each exhalation.
He begged a room
from his sister on her old sheep ranch.
She isn’t sure. Has young kids.
His sickness balled up like bad news
in the bottom of their basement.
No one climbs down there.
I look beyond his head, outside his room
to the new lamb—white wool against green
field, the ewe mother
I ask about his relationships.
“It’s all past.”
For his illness a blanket full of holes
which covers, does not warm him.
Donna L. Emerson's chapbook, Body Rhymes, was nominated for
a California Book Award. Her most recent chapbook is Wild Mercy
(Finishing Line Press). Her poetry, prose and photography can be
found in journals such as Chicago Quarterly Review, decomP, The
Healing Muse, The Los Angeles Review, New Ohio Review, Ship of
Fools, and Studio One, and is widely anthologized. She is a college
instructor and licensed clinical social worker.