Jochen Spieker CC
Dying in Reverse
Caring for the living makes it easy to hate--
the moon-faced dogs I don’t feed,
my shoulder pain that comes without reason
in the night, big dead beetles in the yard.
Our new puppy paws insistently
at the screen door, splashes the water
out of her bowl and licks it off the ground.
Takes existence the long way.
The dirt we make each week
is sucked into a bag and sent
to the dump. We thank it for being gone.
The ashes of Mason, our last dog,
are in a mass grave in Massachusetts,
burned with other recipients
of human love.
What compels me to say
I care for my father?
In a room I don’t often visit
it smells like skin
and he sometimes chokes on the bile
from the tube in his neck.
The puppy scrambles onto his forbidden
chest and bites with sharp milk teeth,
approaching hurt with excitement,
as all young things do.
The nurse sucks the bile
from his tube and he can breathe
Outside, where he can’t go,
the grass moves
like a storm of blinking eyes.
He used to press himself to the vinyl bottom
of the pool, and I would stand on his back.
We called it surfing. It was before I did anything
but love him.
When he learned I was a girl he slammed
the hospital door and cried. It’s an intelligence
test, he would whisper to me when he saw a person
struggle. And then, often, You failed!
On Sunday mornings, he took me to ice skating lessons.
He skimmed the perimeter in fast laps, the same
circle for a silent hour.
I sought masculine things to bring him,
like a raven with shiny buttons. A plastic muscle car
from the Duane Reade, knowledge of obscure 60s rock,
a piece of iron a smith helped me bend
into a simple heart.
When we argued and I won, he told me
I took after him, an appropriation
of my mind I did not completely disagree with.
Now he is only earnest; his eyes bulge from a thinning face.
I want to go swimming with you.
I wonder when his sentences became so simple.
I know, I answer.
We haven’t shared sweetness like this in a lifetime.
Still, he would sink. His lungs
I don’t know what promises to make him,
but I have to save one of us.
When you are in a hole, stop digging.
When you stop digging, you are still in a hole.
I will cut you open and put these inside you I threaten
my dog, but I am not one for fulfilling. I slip
the pills in a cherry tomato and try again.
I am engaging anew with my childhood
fantasies. Always a beautiful woman licking
my tears. I used to obsess over the fine carbon
of ash, its tendency to fuse with all materials. I slept
with burnt fingers under my nose pretending I was
in a fire. My mother flicks a lighter over two tall
candles in the kitchen sink and now we know
it’s Friday. I am engaging anew with my
muscular system and also with time.
I can travel back and forth across a room
quickly. Momentum, intention, and business
is how I prefer to walk. I sit at my desk counting
heartbeats. I think I used to be something or want to
be something. Every day I forget to do it. This is not panic
-inducing. I will not make myself sick because I am not
sick. Beautiful women are sirens, they offer me a
version of myself I want to be. Jealousy
-inducing, pulling the successful off their tracks.
How to compare the legacy of the sirens to Odysseus?
I will detach myself from beauty and consider
motion. Climb out of the hole. Fine, then
measure the hole. To understand what
is necessary I will cauterize the
stupid things inside me.
Heather Gluck is a poet and editor from New York who received her MFA from Columbia University. Her work is published or upcoming in Anthropocene, Palette Poetry, Poetry Online, Beyond Words, High Shelf Press, and others. Her portfolio was shortlisted for the 2021 Tennessee Williams Writing Contest. She has served as Editor in Chief of the literary magazines Exchange and Some Kind of Opening. She is the Managing Editor for MAYDAY Magazine and a Nonfiction Editor at Majuscule. See more at heathergluck.com.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.