This afternoon I sat close
to a friend, in his living room,
next to his hospital bed.
He’s pleasant company, a kind man,
for years a coworker, vigorous until
a few months ago. Trouble started
with mild back pain, spread to a jolt
down a leg, advanced to a sluggish limp.
Now he can no longer carry groceries in
for his wife or hug his granddaughters,
pull a blanket over his cold legs,
wave to greet a visitor, can’t
breathe without regulated rhythm
of mechanical puffs. Luck? What
was Lou Gehrig thinking?
We used to joke together after
exercise class at the Y. Now
my friend says he’s told
his minister what he wants
said at his funeral. Until
a hospital caseworker’s arrival
interrupted us, we were old
men bullshitting, grousing about
what we used to consider problems
at work, replaying great ballgames
from seasons past, making cracks
about guys we know, forced laughter
punching at all that hung between
us, like weary fighters still
pounding heavy bags. Now
I tell him, I tell him how
wrong I think this is,
how I pray his journey goes
easier than he expects. I don’t
say how frightened I feel.
He holds my eye. Though I ache
to look away, I hold his.
He says, I appreciate you
saying that, and draws another
shallow artificial breath as he pictures
himself standing again, shaking
my hand, walking me to his door.
“Air Pressure,” read by Larry Pike.
Larry Pike lives with his wife, Carol, in Glasgow, Kentucky. His writing has been published in a variety of publications, and he was a 2021 Best of the Net nominee. Finishing Line Press published his debut poetry collection, Even in the Slums of Providence, in October 2021.
Artwork: Two Standing Men by Willem de Kooning, 1938. Flickr.com.