Bill Jones

The Night War Ended

(August 9, 1974)

His skull whiter than death,
a mime worked the crowd
in the street cafe
where we’d gone that night
to drink in San Francisco.
He watched as we all did
on the flickering screen
above the bar,
dark silhouettes of
helicopters lifting people off
the embassy roof
a world and many months away.
We watched choppers being
pushed into the sea
and Chicago and Washington
boiling with protest,
the searing stench of tear gas
as war came
into our living rooms,
Americans tearing at each other
through the Watergate
that moonless night
when a President,
himself deathly white,
announced his resignation.
Around us people lifted
glasses of dry red wine.
They clapped and cheered.
The mime began to dance.
We headed home,
made love till dawn,
giving peace a chance.

The Night of the Dream

I’m driving north to upstate,
feeling lost, the sky silver,
the weather odd,
and I need to see Ray,
my college roommate
from forty years ago.
Then I’m in a dorm room
in a chrome-fronted building
I don’t recognize.
The door opens,
and Ray walks in.
I’m glad you’re here, I tell him.
I’m glad you’re here,
hugging him,
clapping him on the back.

Three nights later I get
a voice mail from Ray
from Alabama, a crackly tape,
that sounds like he’s talking
through a storm.
I’m OK, he says, the house
is OK, but the power’s out,
probably for a week.
My phone’s going;
I’ll be in touch.

The next night I call him,
and he picks up to tell the story
of tornados ripping through Huntsville,
one funnel cloud moving
right down his street
then veering off,
other houses being cut to pieces
by falling trees.
The night of the dream,
he had been huddling
in his bathroom
in the dark
with water and blankets
and a radio, hoping
the batteries would hold out.
I’m glad you’re here, I tell him.
I’m glad you’re here.

Pissing in the Sink

When it got to this,
I should have known.
For him now, the short trip
down the hall was as terrifying
as walking a tightrope
without a net. One slip
and he’d be on the floor,
something broken,
the nursing home,
one step closer
to the ground.

Debridement

The process of removing damaged flesh from a wound,
debridement promotes healing and minimizes scarring.

In the early 60’s
in the warfare labs at Detrick,
an autoclave boiled over,
scalding my father’s legs
from a few inches above the knees
to the place his shoes protected.
There were no burn units
in hospitals then, so my father,
a medic in France in World War II,
chose to come home
to care for himself
on the couch in our living room.
With white sheets
covering the cushions,
he’d sit, his legs wrapped
in gauze and yellow medication
until it came time
to change the bandages.
And that’s where I came in,
unwrapping as he instructed,
slowly, delicately,
handling the relics
of his calves and shins
and then, with surgical scissors
and a scalpel, removing
what had died, taking it
to the very edge
of what was living.
What I remember most
was the look on my father’s face
as I, at ten years old,
would clip, then lightly scrape.
He’d bite his lip and
occasionally close his eyes.
Go on! he’d say. Go on!
as I did my best not
to hurt this man who would not
cry out, not once.
And then, the ointment re-applied,
we’d wrap, slowly, carefully,
the bandages,
mummying his legs,
relieved to have this over
until it was time for the two of us
to change again.

© Bill Jones

Bill Jones has had poetry published in The California Quarterly, The Connecticut River Review, The Texas Poetry Review, and numerous periodicals in the Maryland area. In another lifetime, he won the Baltimore Artscape Poetry Prize for his collection “Swimming at Night.”

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