OXYGEN | Hollis Kurman
A machine detecting dye, the parry
padding into the room where he lies,
wordless, feet stilled and arms bound.
His glasses have been removed,
his pockets emptied. A life fills
those pockets, the tokens and coins,
addresses and appointments. Cash, still.
Hints of barter expired. I clutch his coat
and dapper hat in my lap, breathing in
deeply, as he cannot, to record his scent.
The apartment chokes on his clutter
and unfinished, unopened, unpaid.
Beyond his windows the not yet sun,
bouncing upward from building angles.
We pace, sit, wait. Television grates.
From the doorway I see only
sheets and blankets in tangle;
a rise too small to describe
a man. How many hours ago
had the coughing commenced?
The whoosh of car tires in the rain white
noises our sleep. For one slow moment
the high floor nights return, doormen guarding
our years-of-taking-things-for-granted, so sure
we had a right to that address, to one another.
He was a perfect tweed, a dimpled felt hat,
not yet visored souvenir nor hospital cap.
Lonely yet stately at home, his pride in saving
lives. The city would greet him, “Ah, Doctor,”
not yet tempted to take his elbow or to cry.
When the phone call comes, crumple
and break. Wait, we’ve not yet
spoken today; wait, take my oxygen;
wait, the policemen called you “sir” in the
middle of the night, carrying you back to bed.
Hollis Kurman is contributing Editor on the Board of Barrow Street Books in NYC. Her poems (one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize) have been published in multiple journals, including Barrow Street, Rattle, Phoebe, the Ocean State Review, and VIA (Voices in Italian Americana), and are forthcoming in AMS (Cipher Literary Magazine). Kurman also writes poems and stories for children. Her debut picture book, Welcome 1! A Counting Book of Kindnesses (the refugee child’s journey through the lens of help offered along the way) will be published in 2020 by Otter Barry Books (UK) with an endorsement by Amnesty International. The writer, who lives in Amsterdam, has studied poetry with Sharon Olds and Daniel Hoffman.