Mike L. Nichols
is a graduate of Idaho State University and a recipient of the Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize. He lives and writes in Eastern Idaho. Look for his poetry in Rogue Agent, Tattoo Highway, Ink&Nebula, Plainsongs Magazine, and elsewhere. Find more at deadgirldancing.net
I didn’t expect a weathered man
my age wearing a Stetson hat,
one thumb hooked in the pocket
of filthy jeans, to come drifting
from behind the rusted yellow
dumpster in the back-alley of the
Blue Moon Gentlemen’s Club.
My grandfather, who drank himself
to death twenty-five years before my
birth, escorting me to the next plane
when the bullet torpedoes quick
through my whiskey soaked brain.
Who makes these assignments,
some cherubic bureaucratic being?
Probably not God. He’d have bigger
things to see to, what with tsunami’s
and hurricanes washing people away.
Unattended toddlers tipping into
irrigation canals. But it could be He
purposely picks who the escort will be
just for a laugh at the look on the new
ghost’s face when a stranger floats
into view. Why wouldn’t God have a sense
of humor too? He must get bored, telling
the same old jokes to the angelic host
“A pirate stumps into a bar . . .”
As it was, I couldn’t stand by and watch Mom
waste away, age two decades overnight and die
after the last round of chemo was several
months behind. Instead, I stood on the other side
of her bedroom door while she sank,
awash in a private sea of pain meds.
Maybe she didn’t show at the Blue Moon
out of resentment for all those days I hid
doggy-paddling through bottles, drifting
off on a stone pipe’s smoke. Leaving her
before she could leave me.
I followed the simple set of instructions
promising power over death while
offering nothing for the alternative.
No means to cork the shuddering
grief at graveside.
Dehydration’s the danger.
If I can just plunge the nutrients
and some water into her
throat every 2 – 3 hours
there’s cause to be hopeful. Life doesn’t
feel like an illusion
when I’m wiping the shit
from her ass again.
Random stars twinkle
coyly at me while I wait for
some sympathetic or sagacious
presence to shout back from
the blackness that’s
The threshold of sunsets looms at
Against my will, I circle toward it.
When I cross over, how can she be
my mother any longer? Her death
will be renewed. Her existence growing
cobweb thin. In perpetuity younger than me.
To be a child older than your mother must
violate some rule.
I was driving yellow trucks across
the carpet when I heard her hymn
coming from the ironing room
and for a moment I was frightened,
believing an angel was singing.
Drawn by the sound I stood and scuffed
my feet across the carpet toward it.
Fear of silencing her song held me
peering in at the threshold.
I wasn’t listening whenever it was
that I crossed the verge into adulthood.
I missed the moment. I vaguely believed
some secret knowledge would have been
instantly imparted. An understanding
greater than a child’s. A defining equation,
16 – 48.7 > 17,782
When they cart away my coffin
will all things be equal.