Vines and Branches
The Vine and The Branches
They came with the office,
leather wingbacks in cracked cadmium yellow
upholstery smelling strongly of leather
and the in-ground sweat of many people,
bracketing the bookcase containing many
and varied works of God and psychology.
Love is a Choice was the title of the book
I was reading that day after work,
sitting with my father as he drew his sermon from air.
My waitresses uniform riding high up the cleft of my ass,
my thighs sticking, open pored, sweating,
to the bright yellow cover of that smelly old chair,
I read what I could in the bright light of evening.
Dad typed away hard on the keyboard
of the computer he made for himself out of parts
scrounged barely functioning from the hospital dumpster.
He was always good at creating a purpose
for the waste that he found.
We hardly spoke then,
I was young and constantly aching-
and not just from working eight hour shifts
on an ankle that would later turn out to be broken.
All my words rushed inward, filling my centre.
There was no surplus left to fill my mouth.
I read what I could in silence punctuated
by the hymns and new wave synth pop
he let fly under-breath, the chorus to the Cars-
Just what I needed.
Five in the evening and the room was still baking,
the corrugated roof slow to release the bright Texas sun.
Sharon, the plump pompadoured secretary,
had checked out early- just as well, really.
There was work to be done.
The first thread of red spread on the horizon-
blood caught in the quick of the world’s fingernail-
and the patients were coming.
I closed my book and got up from the chair.
I took Sharon’s place in the small low-walled cubicle
by the plywood front door.
I lifted my foot up, blue-black and throbbing
from too long toting hamburgers to trucks,
to the soft white people crouched in the cabs,
rolling on skates from the kitchen, my tray fully laden.
I rolled my sock up over the bulge
pretending that the pressure was enough
to do any good.
The light door opened while I was examining
the source of the nauseating throb.
The man who entered was short, curled over,
crouching. I could see light flyaway hair,
a scanty crown.
He knew my father well enough
to slide in through the door, and close it behind him.
I lowered my foot and laid out a well-thumbed
deck of solitaire in the smear where my heel
had scuffed the deal,
placing kings and aces without cheating.
I won three games out of four
before he called me.
I slid the cards into their pack and grunted
at the shock of standing.
It was always worst at first-
pain responds favorably to being ignored
and waitresses, ministers, people who live by serving,
are rarely insured.
I opened the door.
My father was standing over the blond man
hunched in my chair.
Dad was gathering up a white bag full of rattling
orange bottles that he found, who knows how or where,
for the use of the poor.
The man in my chair was bleeding all over it,
blood seeping from the foul yellow-edged lesions
that made his skin more a series of interruptions
than any proper covering.
His green shirt, his blue jeans stank
with the sweet odor of seepage,
rot from the disease a needle he depressed
years ago squirted into his veins,
mingled with the drink of forgetting.
‘Now Lyle, remember the dosage.
Take the cocktail three times daily-
no skipping doses.
‘When you run out, come back and see me.
I should have more for you by the end of the month.’
Lyle smiled with a mouth empty of all but grey gums.
The hand he held for shaking
was a Dantesque tree branch-
bleeding and speaking in a suicides tongue.
The yellow leather he vacated held the shape,
the stench of his whiplash body in fluids
which veined out and frayed
in the cracks of the skin stretched and ageing.
The ghost of a man who was dying
lingering after the body
had passed through the door.
When Lyle was gone completely,
a mirage of the street, a shadow wavering,
Dad turned to me, tired, his round shoulders sagging.
‘We had better get started. I need to get home.’
I fetched the clean rags from the hidden cabinet,
he fetched the bleach from the jug by the door.
We kneeled together, my wounded leg aching,
and left the leather upholstery a little lighter, a little softer,
than it had ever been before.