ON SELF-RELIANCE

I knew what had to be done,
I researched and researched

how to go about it
which tools to use

to be clear
the burden had grown
massive

there are three sets of
taunting stairs in
the tiny house
I designed for myself

but whether negotiating
treads and risers
or just standing still

nerve jolts
come without warning

I had seen the ravage
to my grandfather

and now/ coming for me?

I watched my grandfather
trying to stand
up to it with the force
of his outrage

even as a five-year-old, I was
aware of the futility of waving
arms at the wind

now l put my trust in actions

and what good is a leg if it
won’t support?

gimp-like
muscles atrophying

the constant nagging frailty

insidious self-doubt
festering and undermining
basic physical continuity

the notion came to me slowly
and simply

water collecting in a drop
at the end of a faucet
growing heavier and
heavier, then falling,
banging and echoing
into a stainless-steel sink

I would get ahead of it
– in the garage

what I alone had to conquer

a task
to be performed with
apocalyptic exactitude

riding the waves
crashing onto the sand

self-reliance feeding on itself,
a heady intoxication of confidence

the garage would be transformed,
contents removed, power-washed
and sanitized

ceiling, floor and walls, painted with
coat after coat of matt black

a deep dark
anti-gravitational envelopment

two short LED tube lights
installed, center overhead
to give off a narrow
halo of pure visibility

on the appointed evening
there would be a white metal
chair next to white metal table
on wheels

at 8:00 I would push the button
on my audio player

the delicious steadying sound
of Gustav Mahler’s no. 6 in A minor

a symphony in four movements that
would float into the room through
Bose speakers, seeping into and
smoothing over every irregularity

written for a large orchestra to go deep
this particular version,
recorded in Berlin in 2005

the operation would be organized
and divided by the symphony’s four
parts lasting a total of 84 minutes:

I. meticulous and meditative: shaving and sanitizing, 2 inches above the knee: 25 minutes
II. resolute and fast: cutting: 15 minutes
III. methodical: stanching and clamping blood vessels: 13 minutes
IV. slow: sewing and separating the nerves, pulling the muscles to cushion the stump, closing the skin over the muscles:
31 minutes

as it would have to,
the morning of the
day arrived
each minute leading to the next

I moved myself to the garage,
an hour ahead
naked but for a white paper
hospital gown
tied in the back

sitting on the white metal
chair, facing the white
metal table on wheels

instruments gleaming in the light
organized according to movement

calmly listening to nothing but
my breath in and out

switching back and forth
so many times

but now at peace
that during the procedure
there would be no pain
obfuscation
at all

I would claim full responsibility

reviewing in my mind each iteration
again and again and again

I would earn and justify my survival
tether my fear to propel me

8:00 lighting up on my I-phone,

the middle finger of my left
hand pressing a small black rectangle

the marching beat beginning
glorious and mesmerizing

music
I knew by heart,
my steady comfort and handhold

dabbing the right leg with alcohol
a careful tenderness
then drawing the razor back and forth
above the knee

clearing away the black
hairs mixed with white
shaving foam

no longer recognizing
the pale exfoliated flesh

it belongs in a giant jar
of formaldehyde in the
Smithsonian Museum

I remember seeing
a silvery sun reflected
in patches on the bay

the lush sounds of the second movement
already swirling through the garage

staring at the instruments carefully
laid out on the table

time, a bouncing ball,
contracting and elongating

becoming conscious of the loud strain
of the electric saw choking and whirring

my clenched cramping hands
forcing it down with all my might

aware that I was cutting
without knowing when
I’d actually begun

a metallic taste on my tongue
a fog I penetrated with yellow lights
speeding through thick woods
on an unpaved road

and in the third movement
the weight of what I’d done
pressing on me

spattered on my gown,
in pools on the floor
reds, pinks, brown, yellow and blue

everything now to keep from passing out
begging for survival

blurring into the last movement
the needle and thread

wildly trembling hands

ship sinking deeper
taking on enormous gulps of water

the loud pounding,
somber musical blows
of fate

and finally,
finally the single quiet endnote

yes, now, quiet, quiet

water swirling into a drain
in the floor

missing chunks of time

a steady drip-drop of
blacked-out days, masked
in an endless hissing drone

weeks of delirium,
painkillers and antibiotics

and then, light tinging
an inky pool

angry red scars becoming
smooth and calm
swollen tissue compressing
and shortening

I’m agile on my crutches
pant leg neatly hemmed

quick to adapt to the leaner
way of being, pleased
with my flair

————–

for most of my adult life
through my computer screen

I have lived and worked,
in contented solitude

but now, I’m on the sidewalk,
in the supermarket and at the drugstore
swinging and bounding
with my aluminum walking sticks

people turning away, hurrying
past, the sight of my deformity
apparently repelling

for once I want to be seen:
I want to shout:

look! look at what I did
for myself! Isn’t it staggering!

odd, the impulse for company…

and then, a clogging of the drain,

becoming aware of a small nodule
tucked just inside the healed-over scar

nothing to fret about yet
a spec of hardened tissue;

my bark-like skin will surely
grow over and bury it

but – as days pass
it continues to thicken
and lengthen, a lump of worry that
I absently hold and run my fingers over

my voice tightening and constraining
swinging on my crutches no longer
such a joy

soaking in endless tubs of saltwater
smearing on gooey elixirs

and still the swelling
and throbbing
larger and larger

would I seek medical attention?
an Uber ride to the emergency room?
face questions and judgments

the numbers on the calendar
jumbling into a messy stupor

picking at sheets of deadened skin
flaking away
revealing underneath
more skin
soft, moist and inflamed

and then, staring at it
trying to make sense of

the little piece of pink candy
pushing out from under
spongy layers

a small, hardened, crescent shape
at the end of an oblong nob

slowly materializing in my mind…

a nail…

attached to a

tiny

toe

reasoning over
the thrashing in my chest

gingerly probing,
discovering
at the end of my stump

more tiny toes,
metatarsal, heel, ankle:

a nascent foot

I’m laughing
climbing out of a window

scrambling up onto the peaked roof
positioning myself along
the highest ridge

tenuously balancing at my full height
shouting and laughing at the sky

noticing a butterfly
switching back on the breeze

not a butterfly exactly —
a kite circling overhead

operated by a hang-glider
swooping close enough
to call out

the rush of air; her slamming
into me, dislodging my perch

metal D-rings swiftly
clipping and strapping me in

she’s young, with calloused hands
her breath on my neck
her spearmint chewing-gum
the warmth of her body

frightened by the altitude
and my lack of control

while surrendering
to her surety

and the quietude and
remoteness of the wind

a series of increasingly larger arcs,
currents carrying us up and further
away from the house

circling over the city’s shanties
and mansions

and the short distance
to the coast

looking down on
chops of blue and gray water
shifting in the afternoon

feeling my pilot
cut a slowly descending spiral
into a rustling flurry of drafts

coming closer to the nearly deserted
beach with each revolution

wings turning into the wind
slowing forward speed

floating above, and hitting
the coarse yellow sand

catching myself with my hands

she unhitches me,
nodding our smiling goodbyes

I watch as she skillfully dismantles
the glider, hoping that we can
meet again

turning away and beginning to
hop along on the sand
struggling for balance,

protecting the new delicate
thickening
on the end of my stump

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.