Old Friends, Here and Gone

J.C. Todd

Hey, kinky, he says, checking me out at our friend’s
memorial, cause of death a cancer in
the folds of brain inside the bony structure
that gave her face such beauty. During chemo
her grace grew equal to reversals – her scalp
bared and the muscles of her left hand too weak
to hold a watercolor brush. He had soothed
her in the hospital, the hospice, spooning
ice chips, vegan broth. When her speech meandered
beyond understanding, he had listened to
the streams of sound as if to a jazz too wild
for human sense – Sonny Rollins breaking loose
on sax or Johnny Hodges yowling through his
golden flugelhorn. I’m beggin’, Johnny moaned
one clammy night, blue handkerchief mopping
the crown of his head through a white crochet cap,
beggin’ for mercy. That’s what I’d needed back
then, my sadness set free by restraints and rough
sex, the clarity of sudden more essential
than its pain. Still kinky, he asks. In the hand
I can’t forget, a dram of scotch, its surface
undisturbed, held in perfect tension by the rim.
His eyes, calm, returning my face to me, calmed,
as his gaze had done in our turbulent year and
again this spring for our friend who, I have heard,
rallied at his touch, eyelids blinking open,
although the optic nerve was bruised by the tumor’s
mounting pressure, and sudden light hurt her eyes.