for my mother

What are you now ? Ash, a vine, a por­tion

left to sleep, cry­ing in your sleep.

They want to take your leg.

Your oxime­ter chirps behind you, above you

Ban­dit steals a kiss from the Frog.

We don’t speak.

Neglect is our com­mon tongue. We smoke

and snort our way into the same bed, moth­er

and son, until one sec­ond before the only sec­ond

that counts. If the Snow­man and Fred could see us

from the TV on the wall, they’d choke and chew

each oth­er to the bone. We can win any race

where you have to beg to fin­ish.

Tanked

It is ear­ly in the morn­ing, and I am in the base­ment of the base­ment of one of the tow­ers at the UCLA Med­ical Cen­ter. I have been here for forty-five min­utes, but with­out day­light, with­out the pulse of air and sound as doors open and close, time is sloughed. Nobody has hard-soled shoes down here. The clin­i­cians are on their feet all day, I guess, or they love to make chirpy squawks when they turn cor­ners, and the patients are in wheel­chairs with masks over their faces. When I walk in the Gonda Hyper­bar­ic Cen­ter, my steps per­cuss. I am here to see if I need hyper­bar­ic ther­a­py to heal the skin graft on the back of my left calf. It’s been two years. Frankly I haven’t cared much. It hurts only occa­sion­al­ly, and after I put a ban­dage on it, I go about my day. But after see­ing my moth­er go through some anguish and mis­ery in the hos­pi­tal — much of it the result of gen­er­al self neglect — I am moti­vat­ed to heal this hole.

I didn’t know who to expect to see in a place like this but I didn’t think I’d see a cadre of healthy young men in wheel­chairs with masks over their faces. It turns out they are con­struc­tion guys who were doing some demo in a com­mer­cial build­ing and were exposed to car­bon monox­ide. They all start­ed get­ting sick the next day and now they are about to slide into a mas­sive steel tank cov­ered with NASA stick­ers for two hours. And after anoth­er ses­sion in the after­noon they will be good to go.

I leave with­out see­ing the inside of a cham­ber. I’m not dis­ap­point­ed. I know that most things that seem cool aren’t cool when you’re inside them won­der­ing if your blood is boil­ing. By the time I get home it’s still ear­ly morn­ing. My neigh­bors are leav­ing for work. My dog is hun­gry. By the time I walk to cof­fee to read the paper I’ve almost for­got­ten that there are caves of sci­ence and suf­fer­ing two sto­ries under the streets.