By Tom Griffen
Bend your knees, lean down, and place
one of your hands on his as it rests
on the arm of the wheelchair. Look
through clouds in his eyes and put
your lips to his cheek. Move slowly.
Do not wonder if this will be the last time.
Do not think, right now, about
life before this, last summer when
he spoke in a voice without a stammer,
without the brogue dredged from his youth.
Do not consider his small body,
limp and folded. His muscles evaporating
into stale hospital air. How there’s no way
he could lift a wooden oar, let alone
dip it into still water. No way he could explain,
again, how to move gently, tenderly across
the lake top, absorb its silence, create
tiny undertows with each pull of the paddle.
Do not imagine wind blowing his thin hair.
No freshwater rippling on the muddy banks, no
gathering tufts of white, shivering foam.
Do not try to remember everything at all at once.
No. Just do what must be done. Nod and say yes
when he asks if everything’s going to be alright.
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By Tom Griffen
I touch my lips with grease
that turns brown paper translucent.
I touch my lips with honey crust.
Flakes of bread, burnt crisps of coconut
shavings, stale almond paste. A tunnel of floured
steps, twenty-three straight up. A bulb on a cord.
The ticking clock. I see his bald head.
Doesn’t anyone knock anymore? Mind the door.
Stacks of dirty bills, rubber bands
between his thick fingers.
Hard work’s all that matters, boy.
These hands have made sacrifices.
Come feel how cracked they are, how calloused
and raw they are. Someday these will be
your hands. Someday you’ll know the truth, boy.
- The Golden Brown Bakery
San Francisco 1976