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The Fifth Floor | small poet at large

small poet at large

The Fifth Floor

the entrance to the fifth floor
is guarded by a red button
high on the wall
read the sign
press the button pull the handle
a hum as the door opens

primitive art work tiles the walls
bright clumsy designs in childlike hand
the tables are covered with large stuffed dolls
stained satin pillows
toys with large beads to wind over wires
a man with glazed eyes sings cowboy songs
melodic voice dancing over a wide range
his companion mutters random syllables

Aunt Helen sits in a recliner against a table
as i speak, lips on ear
she feels her stump without expression
for months her missing knee leg and foot
have daily caused mysterious anguish
a discovery lost in scattered dreams
gangrene has renewed its assault
morphine pump a dull nightstick
she rocks and fidgets with her clothing
plays with her tube feels the stump again
rubs her hands looks down into her lap

i tell her family stories shout familiar names
stroke her arm caress her cheek
she continues the ritual in silence
the antibiotics have been stopped

at Zady's shiva
whenever the Kaddish was chanted
not just the Mourner's Kaddish
but the Reader's Kaddish or the Chazi Kaddish
Helen would pipe in loudly and hold each word
then trumpet AMEN in a big high voice

linking her fingers with mine
i chant the Shema
the words she would wish to whisper
the declaration the rites the gathering
then repeat the watchwords of faith
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad!
Hear O Israel The Lord Our G-d The Lord Is One!
the last breaths martyrs utter
looking through the eyes of tormenters

the exit from the fifth floor
is guarded by a number pad
high on the wall
memorize the code
touch the four digits
a solid click as the door opens

when i return home
my first task is to wash my hands
that's what we do
when we leave cemeteries

Published in Sahara, The Ibbetson Street Journal, Soul-Lit
All rights reserved including copyright - Richard H. Fox 2001