In the Gallery of Severe Head Injuries

Matthew Olzmann

my kid brother is still in college, caring
for a man who tried to kill himself
with a power drill. The task
that has been entrusted to my brother
is simple: make sure the tube
in this guy’s throat doesn’t pop out.
So he sits there, bedside, reading
into the night. And instead of stars,
the air is possessed by pinpricks
of green light, skittering across a black
monitor, as if the monitor
was a deep field and the lights
were tow-headed children playing
long after dark. And instead of crickets,
there’s the rasp of a dead man’s chest
that somehow still shudders up and down,
a heavy sound, as if inside, a smaller man
drags an iron reliquary across a hardwood floor.
What do you call this world, the images
that haunt the unconscious body? There,
in the hollow, perhaps the smaller man lets
go of the container, stands erect, turns
to let the sun touch his ruined face.
His loved ones rush toward him. Birds
flicker over everything. Some would call this
a dream. I’m not ready to use that word.

When he weighs only his right foot

what’s actually being weighed is fear.
Nothing inside the scale cares if,
to that foot, the rest of the body
is attached. And attached
to the body is a lifetime of baseball,
model trains, hotdogs with mustard
and hoping for better jobs. And attached
to that lifetime is three lean months of losing
two pounds a week for no known reason.
So when he touches—with only
one foot at first—the scale,
and feels weak, he worries about illnesses,
conditions he saw on the Science Channel,
rare ailments he may or may not have and
what is being weighed is nausea, gnawed
fingernails. What is being weighed
is a number of possibilities—gone,
like days slashed from a calendar.
Outside, the shutters shake
in November’s gale. Rain swells
in the street and motor oil fights
to separate itself from that water.
And as they separate, the man inside feels
like he too is being divided, pried from a shell,
and he can be carried through air in the legs
of a paper wasp he is so slight. Black wings
hauling strings of fiber, back to a nest, borne
above the earth, a nest of infinite tunnels
and combs, buzzing and light.

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