Here is a painting Vernon made a month or so back. I couldn’t remember if I’d shared it before, but it fits the following poem pretty well, so it’s making an appearance here tonight. What a bird, what a character—drawn purely from subconscious, a brief suggestion, and the motion of his hand. It fascinates me so.
Though the past couple of days with Vernon have been pleasant, something I recently saw disturbed and stayed with me. My friend Nicole joined me from LA on Friday. She’s comfortable around Vernon as she’s visited many times. He was begging for water as usual, but we knew we couldn’t give it to him as his coughing/choking has become worse nor can he sit upright in the dialysis chair. We hesitantly asked for a small cup of water, but we weren’t sure how to administer it. I remembered there was an empty medicine dropper in his bag, so Nicole fed him water, drop by drop. It broke my heart to see him so desperately reaching his mouth for refreshment that never really came. A drop of water isn’t the same as a gulp.
Here’s my rough poem, trying to spit out what I saw and have been carrying with me ever since…
Trapped on his back,
he kicks the blanket off with birdlike legs,
knocked knees and brittle bones,
so thin and stiffly bent,
not meant for walking
running, hiking, biking,
or climbing up and down trees
(though those ghosts of the open road past come upon them
as they swing and twist, around and around.)
And the ground is so far below.
This nest isn’t soft.
A bed of needles and tubes
hard plastic loungers
that he tries to throw himself from
that he keeps sliding, falling out of,
hoping to reach the floor,
as his bird-legs claw out for a limb, scratching his way to some kind of escape.
He opens his mouth,
crying out for a drink.
Someone brings a dropper,
tipped in a dixie cup
a drop on an ocean of thirst.
Again, he looks like a frail little bird,
with beak wide open:
Feed me. Feed me. More. More.
A drop, it’s nothing. Not enough to swallow. And the ground is so far below.
There’s no water here.
There’s nothing but protection and shelter.
You can’t climb out of here, my bird man.
If you want to be free,
you’ve got to figure out flying.