A few rungs from the top
of the hayloft ladder, my cousin
spreads his thin arms wide
and falls like a sparrow hawk
through invisible time
into the swells of hay. Outside,
it is still August, the sky white
over the wheat field shouldered
on the hill by the barn, the creek
drawn thin as steel wire.
As he wades through the hay to us,
he keeps saying, “I was flying,
really flying,” his voice brighter
than it would ever be again.
That voice deepened into the rough
world of a man who sidled across
car lots somewhere in Nebraska,
glad-handing ranchers into pickups,
who talked loud above twanging
country music, bought rounds
night after night, a man like all
of us who never saw enough
of what was always coming,
who once looked up past lanes
of dust in the twilight of a barn
and thought he was flying.
Propped in the hospital bed,
he said nothing at first,
hazy blue eyes staring out
of the cloud still holding part
of him. Then a querulous voice
interrupted our whispers—
“Why’d you have to bring me back?
Now I have to do it all over again.”
Turning his head to one side,
he lapsed into an old man’s sleep,
the ventilator steadily pulsing
breathe, breathe, breathe.
A sunny afternoon weeks later,
he stood at the upstairs window
seeing nothing in the yard
below, the green moment
of lawn, the butterfly bobbling
off into the linden’s deep shade.
Gathering the stillness around
him, he slowly unlaced black,
high-top shoes, settled them
beside the bed, and smoothed
his gray cardigan across
the bony shoulders of the chair.
Then he laid himself down,
in his own good time.
RON STOTTLEYER is a retired English professor who recently returned to his love of writing poetry. His work has appeared (or will be appearing) in Alabama Literary Review, The Sow’s Ear, The American Journal of Poetry, Streetlight Magazine, Stirring, West Texas Literary Review, Temenos, South Florida Poetry Journal, and Twyckenham Notes.