My Son Confesses
Each night you lower
the bed rail behind the white wings
of curtains and crawl in beside him, defiant
of sheets that are blood-smudged,
spongy with sweat, sour with fluids.
Brushing away tendrils of tubes,
trace the labyrinths of his body—
first with your fingertips and then
lips over tissue-thin skin.
He knows it is love that defies
as you, monitoring the vital signs—
offered groin, rising heat, race horse pulse—
ride his white-knuckled shudders
over the edge to a place beyond pain.
The Love of My Son’s Life
He says some days you come home from work
with asado and guava empanadas.
Some days miraculous toys,
some days an armful of sweet-blooming Stargazer lilies.
Some days you wear Mickey Mouse ears;
another, a tuxedo with swish and tango. You are
whatever Brad wants you to be: his garden,
pool of healing waters, Chippendale stud.
Your love conquers even the vultures
perched on the dresser in the corner of the room.
Every day when you come home and find fever
a crown in his hair, latitudes awry, you serenade him
with Argentinean lullabies and the sweetest of lisps,
sugar his forehead with your fieriest kisses.
AIDS Ward. City of Angels, 1995
Even as Brad’s thrush-full,
numbs to water—you
sit on the sweat-stained bed,
cotton swabs in ungloved hands,
pulling viscous strings into a tissue
as if this were no more a chore
than mopping figure-eights
along endless corridors.
You brush his teeth and rinse until
the mouth is infant
and ready for your sleight-of-hand trick:
sweet orange removed from
your pocket, peeled and pin-wheeled
over the tray table,
each pulpy wafer placed
on his tongue—
you husband him.
Madelyn Garner’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2015, The Florida Review, Slant, Roanoke Review, PMS poemmemoirstory, Nimrod International Journal, and Water-Stone Review, among others. A retired public school administrator and English teacher, Madelyn is the recipient of the Colorado Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities for encouraging incorporation of the arts into school programs. She was a Leo Love Merit Scholar at the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference and winner of an Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Annual Writing Retreat scholarship. In 2010, she won the Jackson Hole Writers Conference Poetry Prize. With co-editor Andrea L. Watson, she published the anthology Collecting Life: Poets on Objects Known and Imagined (3: A Taos Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award.
“AIDS Ward. City of Angels, 1995” appeared in Water-Stone Review, Fall, 2011. The other poems in this sequence are not previously published.