Self Help as a Competitive Sport, 2011. Mixed Media: Photomontage, Digital Painting, Acrylics & Watercolor. Liz Huston.
I learned young how to wash my dishes remnants not taken to
too kindly in my family more focus on the whole the present
moment you see I was loved very much in my family
this is not an admission of anything I was loved I learned my chores
I drank full glasses of pure white milk my plate partitioned
into sections so food would not touch I was a particular one I never wanted
the broccoli to touch the beef but when my fork tasted of applesauce
as I ate the mac and cheese I rejoiced in a small unexpected pleasure it was mine
alone those pleasures those remnants you see I wanted secrets I learned to love
the sink because my father did he would come in straight
from the farm red earth or grease still on his jeans and begin
the dishes it was my mother who did the laundry but we all knew
how hot water could transform a thing it was precious
I would wash my dish clean in the kitchen sink it was yellow deep it was
facing the desert and its secrets once when I was small enough to be washed
in that sink I watched a mesquite get hit by lightning twenty feet from me
my small hairs my small body charged up but something made me
sit there still my mother screamed the tree broke in two pieces on fire
I was pulled from that sink still dripping that electric water that risk there was
barely a storm that was what she said barely a storm she would never
wash her baby with danger like that later the tree was rooted out chopped up
presumably burned though I don’t know the complete story after that
The lion of the body
is its undoing: whatever
power possessed him
in youth objects
now, as if within
his thinning skin
lies an animal.
The work is never done.
(My father’s body
like a recovered memory.)
He falls. The table catches
him by the face,
He falls. Face it: nothing
catches him, not even
his own body.
Hands to brick—more
bloodied spots to clean.
The line of the body
does not break
as I thought it would,
as if I had considered
the breaking at all
Talking to Strangers
How a voice from a stranger surprises the sound coming from a throat
unknown, unworldly sudden noise, or
a break in silence (as my own voice is always there)
(if I hear my voice as a noise at all that is)
A deserted platform the boy asks a question and I must remove my headphones
to hear he tells me his good news and I respond
that’s good good for you good to hear good the salve
of conversations between strangers his voice the tool
of connection he’s seeking something but I don’t want him
to follow me onto the train as he does all I want is out
of the conversation I’m not really having
his voice something volatile pleading something I’ve wanted to soothe
though I can’t name where I’ve learned every interaction with a stranger
is something to fear a man and a woman talking
My father says I lost the thread of that thought I hear my voice remind him
of his place a chapter mark in the narration he has taken up
these last months his voice the reassurance of his life all the good
he has done my father talks and talks and I learn how
a voice can swallow all the space
my instinct is to stay quiet make space for someone else
in this conversation
but that is the instinct he’s railing against the silence threatens
to command him back
eventually unprompted the boy on the train did fall quiet
No one tells you the most blunt,
brutal edge of degenerative diseases:
the long stretches of boredom,
conversations of loved ones
who are often avoiding
the very fact of death,
or acknowledging it over
and over again, too much,
and there’s nothing to change it.
Televisions are also now found in hospital rooms.
My father won’t have to face us,
listening to the football announcer
tell detailed descriptions
of the exact visual representations
of green fields, men in blue and yellow
against the men in red and black.
Everything is in HD. I still cannot follow
the rules of football. Never have, and now,
with the added technological advancements
—a graphic swooping in to show
it is the 2nd, with 10 yards (in yellow)—
I don’t have to; I can carry on
with the vague sense that the ball
needs to move one way up the field, where
players will or will not score, and then back
down the field, where it begins again.
I do worry I am not being kind enough
to America’s pastime. I worry I am unkind
to my father. I often, forgetfully,
leave the room with two minutes to go.
A person working for the broadcasting company,
somewhere, probably New York, built
the graphic that glides onto the screen.
Someone else added the soft swooping
sound to accompany it. In the hospital,
the newest technology is to route
the television’s speakers into the same remote
which lifts the bed and calls the nurse.
Sounds and voices can be easily muted this way,
and two televisions with different programs
can be on in one room.
I love television.
Before this, I liked to imagine that a whole day
spent in bed watching television would be heaven.
I can understand now how it might grow tiresome,
how appealing it might be to call the nurse
instead of changing the channel.
The voices in the rooms next door,
and their assorted machinery’s hum,
call out through the night. He doesn’t sleep.
That’s what my father can speak of
in the morning, when I raise his chin
softly towards the light, that morning light
streaming in from the window, to shave his face.
That, and the score of last night’s game,
which I remind him we all watched.