D.R. James

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Assisted Living

My father had entered a realm
I would never know. Although
slumped in a chair
in that common room
at the end of a dimly lit corridor—
well beyond the other withered bodies,
their wheel chairs lining
the bumpered walls, their
attendants glib, shouting directives—
my father sat small
like a seer, his web-thin hair
roostered, whiskers grizzling
his business chin. He was decoding
some constellation located vaguely
above the bulletin board announcing
Thursday Bingo, muttering,
raising his wasted arms as if in warning
the world was about to end.

Which it was—and it shuddered
shock waves through my throat,
the distance between us
collapsing like a telescope.
My mother, seated as calmly
as if my life would go on,
looked at me as if I were signaling
it wouldn’t, and before he would die
two days later, my father narrated ancient
sales trips—Gary, Terre Haute, Fort Wayne—
then turned only to my wife and ended,
“What do you think about all this?”

When I was a teen he seemed mainly to care
about the length of my hair, and in all
wrote me two letters, both advising
about life insurance. But now
my speech shivered, my chest
compressed the universe
of my heart, and I didn’t know
what to do with my hands.

            —first published in If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press, 2017)

D. R. James lives in the woods near Saugatuck, Michigan. His most recent of nine collections are Flip Requiem (Dos Madres Press, 2020), Surreal Expulsion (The Poetry Box, 2019), and If god were gentle (Dos Madres Press, 2017), and his micro-chapbook All Her Jazz is printable-for-folding at the Origami Poems Project. https://www.amazon.com/author/drjamesauthorpage