Silent Montage With Late Reagan in Black & White

Brian Barker

He feels the white room
                                stuccoed behind his smile—

He feels the silence like an undertow

                        of tentacles, & the nurses’ hats are canvas sails

scorched with sunlight, gauzy curtains
blousing inside his chest,
                                            & when the light at dusk filters

through, it feels like his head is lit by a pot of boiling milk—

He feels the boy take the lens of a projector
into his mouth,

                    the cold metal, the heat of the lamp

                                                      & the white room sinks
into the black Pacific, a rocket, a diving bell

such emptiness, the earth standing still & the city lights
sizzling out up & down the coast
as water towers topple like B-movie monsters—

Well, he closes his eyes & feels a hollow ringing in his head

                      that he keeps falling through, & then a long chorus
of sputtering

like an army of men in a hangar
touching blowtorches to a turbine, & his tongue
palsies, goes gooey & tumescent,
                                                  a pale sea cucumber asleep in a cave—

            What he wanted to say was
            that he was handsome once, he was dashing.
            That’s him jogging across campus at dusk:
            white shoes, white pants, three white books
            tucked beneath his arm.

He feels matches flare behind his earlobes—

                      He feels the shadows of passing cars, finned & purring—

He feels the riptide of minutes, the pot of milk,
                                  his silence like the lights of a spaceship,

the boy licking his lips & there he goes again
taking the lens into his mouth,
the cold metal, the heat of the lamp. . .

The light passes through them
like a bouncing disco ball, like powdered wigs

            on fire & the boy’s lips are big & pouty,

though he’s all bones, as if he were slowly sucking up
his flesh through a straw.

                      Now the room is lit by a chest x-ray:

grainy fathomlight, shadows
                                        wavering on the wall
                    like scimitars of kelp,
gargantuan forests of sargassum multiplying inside the boy

& the silence won’t stop burning
like a city on a hill. It hurts his head to look at him:

            wizened, cheeks phosphorescent, the light
            straining through wobbling cells,

as the men shuffle from the hangar carrying the ringing he keeps
falling through, their paper robes crisp as spacesuits—

                      (They cradle blowtorches,
                      or are those shapes baby chimps?)

Lesions leech them like the galactic eyes of God
& they yell at him,
they shake their bony arms. . .

Well, he never found the words
for what he wanted to tell them.

            The days diminish.

The nurses pull the curtain, swaddle his body
in a bleached sheet, & the men come
                                    to carry him down into dark water.

They look through him now, as if their blood,
full of stars, is calling them elsewhere.

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