Scott Hartwich live in Bellingham, Washington, where he make a living
by driving a tiny bus. His work has appeared in Colorado Review, Diagram,
and Cue: A Journal of Prose Poetry, among other journals. He is the co-
editor of Greatcoat, a journal of poetry and creative non-fiction.
We kick away boxes and collapse in the back yard, facing east toward late August cutwinds that turn our light sweat to chill. Across the river, slopes come green alive at a certain time late in the day, blacking down the roil of clouds risen up behind. Yesterday my son lost control again and I wonder what he's missed after three years under needles and prednisone, the constant cold tap of gloved hands on his chest. Now, at the slightest disappointment, he collapses to the ground and contorts back to those days of spinal taps and sterile smells, nurses that hover like hummingbirds. We have told him over and over be proud, you have stomped this monster out, but he must wonder whether it lurks, still, in the closet of his blood. The first stars emerge shortly after dusk and the sky opens. A doe and her fawn trip the night light on the neighbor's garage and trim grass from shadow.
I've made this short walk to the river countless times, watched light play off hills rising to the east as two fat squirrels race around the trunk of a pine tree. In late winter the plunge of my hand into pools sends swarms of tiny trout darting under caves of ice. Shadows flit across my wrist and the cold burn feels necessary, like a shedding. Once, in Summer, I witnessed the death throes of a garter snake caught in the jaws of a feral cat. I hissed until the cat ran off. I approached the snake, not for rescue or pity, but to see the exact moment of its death, the way it curled up and grew still. I thought of you curled into a tight fist on the examining table, chin pressed firm into chest, pictured that long needle plunging into your spine while people you trusted held you down. Wouldn't the paper crinkling under you terrify? Wouldn't the disembodied voices of your parents heighten the cold grip of latex across your back? I can say how slowly drops filled the vial. I can tell you how the small, hard grip of your hand cut me, how the panic heat rolling off your body met my cool skin.
When your treatments ended they excised the line dug into your chest, the line you called helper, where medicine went in and blood came out. You were terrified each time they put you under, and lately you have asked for details. I've described to you how your words tangled and your eyes glazed full over but I've never shared the way it was the last time, watching fingers manipulate a syringe filled with amber liquid that crept toward your heartvein like a hammer. After, I waited as they tried to bring you out of it and waited as they tried again. Three times the man pushed something clear into your i.v. before he murmured to the nurse and I heard "waking" and "not". You want to know how it was when your eyes finally opened, but even now I wait--though I have closed mine and have traveled to that place, and would not know more truth than the overlapping of hearts at your approach.
Two weeks after we moved to Montana, you spotted a young moose in our back yard and shrieked. Together we held back the dog and watched as this bull grazed and shook his antlers, then followed a path of his own making across fence and road and past the neighbor's barn until he disappeared into a dark stand of trees far in the distance. I had not yet discovered the river past these trees, running fast over rocks that bent the water's surface, or the sandbar jutting into the river on which I'd lay for hour upon hour, carefully folding your past into the blue-burnt sky.
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