12. September 11

Cords and wires, tubes, the IV stand dispensing

vancomycin, every time he moves he needs to be aware

of what can trip him up. Bionic klutz. One day he steps

on the catheter tube and almost rips it out of his bladder,

lacerating his penis–his very being–sometimes, it has seemed,

one identical to the other. The nurse this morning

wants to know about his bowel movements. “Life,” she says,

“is about bowel movements.” During the night, the catheter

bag fails and he wakes in a pool of urine. At least

there isn’t blood in it. Down the hall a patient

has a bowel explosion. Or was that the night before?

You’re losing it, your precious consciousness.

Quick, what day is it? We mean, the date.

September something. It’s going to be hot, I know that.

September 11, the most important date

in American history, and you’ve forgotten,

dishonored the memory of the thousands killed,

the falling men and women, thinking only

of your penis and your piss, your bowels.

He was living in Manhattan, Murray Hill, near Bellevue,

and could smell the burn of flesh in the air, the clear blue

empty of anything but fighter jets, and the pictures of the missing

on the walls, at night the sirens, frightened lovers kissing

in the shadows. The woman he was living with went down

to work the pile. She was a nurse but was undone

by what she saw, came home with unquenchable grief

and went to bed and awoke in three days with a fervent belief

in God and the power of prayer, fingering a rosary.

They split. He loved her. 9/11 meant to him how sorry

he was to lose what he thought was the love of his life.

Never mind America. What about me and my vanished wife?

See above how the expression “love of my life”

is meaningless. We can trace its end, in fact,

to 9/11, the bodies falling out of life and love,

exploding on the pavement. Everyone moves

on, finds love again, as you did. The only love

that counts is the love of your own life.

Caroline lies with him on the narrow bed in his cell

and he kisses her, all they can do with the catheter in place.

She is wearing the dress she never wears with underwear.

He kisses her bare pudendum. The nurse arrives to start

the vancomycin drip. Dozing, he hears the IV engine mutter,

“hold the phone” and then “Godzilla, Godzilla, Rapunzel.”

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