Monday, December 8, 2008

Dead Man

Dead before he hit the sidewalk, gray teeth, bloodless gums
His mouth permanently agape at the sky
The usual crowd gathers. A young man with two day beard
sharp chin, arms folded, thick bleached blond woman,
say thirty-six in the blue print dress who parked
her Honda across the street stands off to the left
beyond the young man and me. She seems
at loss as to why her life is interrupted on the way
to church, or going home from “His Place”
along with the rest of us who wait to see for sure.

I know he’s dead. I’ve driven ambulance, cut down hangings
pulled heads out of ovens, delivered babies in snow and he’s dead
as surely and perceptively as grass without water dies.
He’s dead. Head back, little body askew on the sidewalk
His blue shorts show no signs of mess, his banty legs awry,
tee-shirt not sweating through. No one knows who he is. No ID.
Does anyone know first aid? And I who know first aid
stand aside while an entourage of well-meaning
men and women surge or approach cautiously to the end
of the no named man lying on the half-shaded sidewalk
head at the foot of a sapling, eyes half closed and vacant.

A tall muscular gay man with shaved head and earrings, stripped
to the waist, rollerblades right up to the corpse and I say again, “He’s dead.
Leave the blanket. Don’t cover the face. It freaks people out.”
One guy with thin moustache misses what I say and rips the blanket off.
And I repeat, “Don’t cover his face,” then he drops the blanket.
The roller blader pulls the blanket off, takes the dead mean’s pulse
with his thumb which says to me, he doesn’t know his thumb has a pulse
of its own and no, he won’t be able to revive this man, who’s Latin
say five feet-five, hands beginning to wax up, cool down, gray hair settling in.
He begins to look unreal like he’s in a casket and the roller blader knocks
some CPR on his chest, tentatively touches the dead man’s face, tips
head back, looks inside his mouth, shakes his head, says "purple" and before
sirens become trucks, cops and oxygen he skates to his immortal day.

This man reminds me of my own death, a face with no name lying
on a strange street in a stranger neighborhood. The day I left home,
the day I left my wife, left California, came back, went home.
The day I got tired of trying to make sense of it, when the carpet rolled out
or upand I wasn’t sure why. And now, just a stroll down Sunday, what better

day the sirens come calling, red trucks blast and loom, young men step down
swing off the great metal with sure and measured stepstheir paraphernalia
designed to give us another whack, a chance to hold on.

Perhaps it’s their sure step, the swarming blue-eyed harmony, an act
of life hovering, a strange enclave of angels even when they know
it’s too lateand it is too late. They circle and dig from their
little black bags some accoutrements for life and this time
it’s not mine to perform; it’s theirs to pretend.
They lock on the oxygen, defibrillate and push, take out a stethoscope
to pronounce him after I’ve pronounced him and I’m hard pressed to speak.
I have passed the baton. My wisdom let’s them sign the final say.
I walk away. This man’s face tilts skyward, presses my mind.
A touch of larceny and trickery. He unwittingly and finally marks
what is and isn’t and what trails this sweltering Sunday
toward home, toward light, toward ever-sweet tomorrow


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