Flickering between memory and nightmare,
I was gurneyed from my hospital room,
my body weighed down with a heavy blanket
since it was still winter in Marquette,
and whooshed before a pair of doors swinging open
only to find myself staring up at a tableau
of masked men wearing pale blue uniforms
of the operating room soon clustering
around me. Their eyes gazed unblinkingly
at me. What were they expecting?
A slight chill settled around my throat.
Someone in the room would surely reach out
with their gloved rubberhands to choke me.
I was so fetal, so glassboned, an easy kill.
The surgeon bent down and gesticulated.
He was about to perform on my right ear.
I dreamed of my gurney taking off like that flying bed
in Bedknobs and Broomsticks where I would fight
an army of surgeons wielding their exacting tools.
Even an errant page of dense medical terms
can make me shriek
from the unfathomable terror of breaking down
tiny shrapnels of word quilted as if Bedlam had
itself became a ghost,
dictating and codifying multiples
of multiply embroidered syllables thin-layered
as in Miss Havisham’s cake
decorated with latticed entrails turned inside out.
Titin is the abbreviated title of a horror movie
I can never watch.
The director’s cut has 189,819 letters in it.
The long version of the word “titin” takes three point
five hours to pronounce.
I fear I’ll be deliriously dead before then.
The night is cranium.
We hoard peptides
for the day when
we can breathe easy
no longer six feet
apart in loneliness.
The rooms we spend
in masking our lives
mourn like loons
among empty sofas.
Worse yet are those beds
Our beds have craters
bombed out by meteor
showers of pearl-ache
pelting the middle
long enough to create
a six-feet-under hole.
The streets tremolo
under our antsy feet
when we feel the roots
sucking our loneliness
from old trees so hard
that it hurts to glance.
The forest feels like a hand ready to clam up into a fist.
When night comes, I am caged.
Even the moon cannot illuminate my circular path.
Then a flutter of wing is gone before I can pinpoint it.
A pungency—a litany of mushrooms?—from deep in the armpits of earth rises.
I trip over one twig after another.
I lick my fingers to wipe my bloody scratches clean.
Larval noises scritch-scritch.
My stomach feels on the edge of collapsing into itself.
Am I pregnant with a monster?
Toxic mushrooms tempt my hunger pulsing in my veins.
I curse myself again for being so foolish, for impulsively escaping the world I’ve always hated.
I feel the aftermath of slime scrawled by slugs climbing my bare legs.
I suffocate my own screams as I try to wipe it all off with a leaf.
I wonder if I should pray, but I’m no longer a child.
I know way too much about how this world operates.
A steady hum from deep inside the woods tweaks its pitch.
I cannot geolocate its source.
The night has tightened its curtains, and it is impossible to see anything clearly.
The vibrations reach my feet, and I nearly keel over when I jump.
Then another sound of flutter.
I try to stand still and meditate.
It has been years since I’ve done yoga.
I wasn’t very good at it.
Too many things had kept crowding my mindspace.
I close my eyes and mouth half-formed words of prayer.
Maybe the owls will hear the fear lurking inside my brains.
I realize that perhaps I should snatch any mushroom I can find and stuff it into my mouth.
If I must die of toxins, so be it.
Too much uncertainty, too much fear in this forest can kill anyone.
I’m not strong enough.
I’m a loser, a failure.
After all, that’s why I’d left the world outside.
I had wanted a little tenderness, but even that seemed impossible.
Then a snap of twig.
A lantern swings in and out between trees in the distance.
How sweet and magical those jump-cuts of light look!
I want to call out who’s there but I withhold my breath.
Maybe it is the Devil with an impossible bargain.
I’m too vulnerable to negotiate, but I want to feel like a human being again.
The swinging of lantern stops in front of me.
I gaze up at you, a tall man with a beard of bark and eyes of pine.
I am surprised by your presence, and yet am not.
The forest is a mystery that resists scientific dissection.
I see your face, overwritten with legends.
My face must be awash with questions.
You hold the lantern alight.
As you revolve slowly, a radiant panorama unfolds.
The world around us is no longer shadow.
The trees have parted its drapes to meadows crowned with poppies.
Sparrows thread through the air.
A swing set that used to be in my backyard sits next to a sandbox.
My mother—much younger—is playing pat-a-cake with a girl who looks familiar.
My mother—much different—is wearing a white dress with ruffles around the collar.
My mother—much slimmer—looks like a painting of joy.
The child, also in a white dress but with a blue bow on her hair, is featureless with daubs.
Have we traveled back to a time that has never existed?
But oh so much color, so much hope!
The scenery fades when you set down the lantern by your feet and sit down on a fallen trunk.
A deeper silence descends like fog as I sit.
Constellations glitter in the mirror of your eyes.
Your stories will light my way back home.
Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of over 30 titles, including 12 full-length poetry collections such as Far from Atlantis (Gallaudet University Press, forthcoming November 2024) and Animals Out-There W-i-l-d: A Bestiary in English and ASL Gloss (Unbound Edition Press, forthcoming September 2024). His work has appeared in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. An inaugural Zoeglossia Poetry Fellow, he lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. [raymondluczak.com]
Image: W.carter, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons