In another room
a ventilator sounds
its nine-note elegy
again and again
all goddamn night.
Turning away from the TV
high in the corner
out the window
and over the Huron’s invisible current,
I wonder about the actors whose movies
are played only to those in hospital rooms
with the closed captions on
and no sense for whether
it is day or night.
If you knew him you would agree
my dad has not had an easy life.
I know less about his childhood
than the very little I recall of mine,
but I do know that the Detroit
he grew up in was magical:
Hudson’s, Sanders, Belle Isle,
Motown, the Tigers, the Big Three.
Walking the evening streets,
all the windows open
before air conditioning
sealed them permanently,
you could hear everyone’s TV
turned to the same channel
so you never missed a word.
The bus took you everywhere
as you saved impatiently for a car.
Nearby they were being pressed
from forms of adrenaline,
ambition, galloping horses,
and white, cresting waves.
During my son’s birthday party
the phone buzzed and told us
my dad was missing.
I ran four redlights on the way to his house,
scanning the snowy ditches
for a sign of his blue corduroy slippers.
We finally caught up to him
in the hospital an hour later
and waited hourlong minutes
in the worn chairs
in the ammonia hallway
before they brought us to him,
unconscious and intubated.
I immediately sensed
through the beeping monitors
and the flickering lights
that he was in a place
where we would might never, really,
catch up to him.
Three days later
the nurses from the flight team
rushed in with their precise motions,
their blue jumpsuits striped in maize.
In twenty minutes he was ready to go.
We walked behind him down the hallways
wondering if this is how
help would invert into fate.
As they lifted off
kicking up rock salt from the helipad
they flashed us the thumbs up
my dad still in an artificial sleep
the helmeted pilots an intense trio
of visible, blurred angels.
(Will I ever leave
this salt-encrusted world?)
I went nearly every day
he was in the hospital
to the noon mass in the chapel
and a woman was always there
in the small congregation,
very petite and elegant; her long hair
concealed her face as she bowed.
After a week I recognized she
was either sent by my grandmother
or — somehow — was her.
She always disappeared
into the crowded hallway
before I could see her face,
taking the illusion with her
in her labcoat pocket.
When I was five or so
we took our boat for a weekend
up the knuckled curve of Lake Huron.
We anchored in a smooth bay to get some sleep.
A droning and rocking dream
tossed me awake in the morning.
I rolled out of the cabin
and climbed the ladder.
My dad was standing before the wheel,
watching the horizon, his mirrored
sunglasses reflecting the lake, the sunrise,
my face, the high clouds.
He sat down and put me on his lap
his arm around my waist
for what seemed like forever.
My mom slept below us
as we arced through the water.
I learned the routines
and habits of the nurses
and medicines by heart.
Which number to watch
on the monitor. Which medicines
we liked and those we feared.
The hours of the rounds,
the doctors by name,
the sympathetic nurses;
where the swabs were,
the clean bandages, the clean hotels.
The hour when the coffeeshops opened up
to the dark sidewalks of the city;
buying him a coffee as a symbol;
it warmed the cup holder all day.
It accompanies me on the drive home
over the icy streets of this town;
they all accompany me,
they all accompany
all of us.
(The worst part is the guessing.
Are these white sheets
his diving bell?)
It took an endless month.
Hope is the cruelest of mistresses.
If Los Angeles is the city of angels
and Paris, of light,
Ann Arbor is my city of hope,
a salted landscape most beautiful
as the geography of remembering
and, eyelashes fluttering
like new-formed wings,
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