The Retired Optometrist to His Wife
As you lie dying,
the hospital lights
refract on our retinas,
wade through our lenses,
traverse those vitreous bodies,
whose photoreceptors collect images:
whose drooping corners catch my tears.
the pink sphere in the corner of your eye.
Bulbar conjunctiva over sclera,
the whites in the sockets,
pools of moonlight.
the ebony wedding ring around the iris—
a soft lime around the pupil—
a rabbit hole,
luminous as sunlight.
We hold hands
like ciliary muscles.
Your pupils dilate
as though to claim one
of bright eternities.
Your old Saturn SW1 rumbles, coughs
on the curb, a cancerous sputtering, jolting
of engine, piston, transmission, muffler.
Gas pipe dripping like a broken gutter,
eyebrow areas above the worn wheels
smeared in mud, a constellation of rusty dents
like potholes swallowing the red paint.
The car door creaks, cries, moans in metallic lamentation,
the hoarse whimpering of a dead joy still living.
A jalopy to me, a keepsake to you, once a gift from your father.
I follow you into our apartment,
my shaky hands enclosed around your fingers,
yours as plump, as rough as sanding sponges,
the masculine hands of a man getting home from work.
Your fingers grip my hairy knuckles in feverish silence,
forehead red, crinkled, soaked in sweat,
snot over your mustache like ice
glazed above your chapped lips.
You body sinks into the leather sofa.
Tears jet from your eyes like comets crashing
into the surface of a dwarf star, your glasses fogging
like steam from the heat on your cheeks.
The whites of your eyes redden into gravitational collapse.
Strands of oily, black hair fall
over the motorcyclist tattoo on your neck
like night descending upon a driver on a country road, heading
toward the stars. Out of reach. Blinking like coquets, like
the Big Dipper and Little Dipper, kites in the sky,
whipped, wrung constellations drifting, facing away
from each other, like our hearts spaced
miles, miles away in the living room.
You called him and told him about us. Didn’t you?
You nod and crumble onto my lap,
defeated by the rejections of a father still lost in the past.
To your father, you’re a mere figment of a son,
a fairy in a garden of twinks, dikes, pedophiles.
You shoot from the couch, shout at the floor,
pacing the length of the cotton dhurrie underneath your boots.
I touch your arm. You flinch.
I take you into my arms. You tell me to let go,
arms lashing, hands flinging, shoulders thrusting.
I hold you tighter, my chest a stratosphere of warmth,
the only comfort I can give you now.
Your despair, a galaxy. Your eyes capture the cosmos
of tears, of fallen planets, worlds surrounded by
jagged asteroids in the frozen tundra of the heavens,
surrounded by periwinkle, lavender, chartreuse, magenta stars.
There. The void. A place where nothing matters.
A place beyond the planets, the asteroids, the light.
A place where no one judges, reprimands, dehumanizes.
A place devoid of hope, devoid of sanctity, devoid of love.
You want out of my grasp. To slink into the void
thousands of lightyears away inside your mind,
a place of chaos. Planets falling off their axes,
hitting their moons like children’s marbles on the playground,
stellar nebulas playing for keepsies,
declaring ownership to what’s yours.
Massive stars and red supergiants erupt into supernovas,
expanding into a danse macabre of black holes,
a cemetery of black. Nothing but black.
It’s as if you don’t deserve the light you have on Earth.
Now extricated from my caress, eyes turned away as if in shame,
you shove me. My back smacks against the cedar credenza. I fall.
You kneel over me and apologize. You say your father’s right,
that you’re wrong, that you’re perverse, that you’re a fairy
with a boyfriend. Lost in the void that mutters
how little our kind’s worth in a nation
of power, of pride, of passion.
I get to my knees. Holding you with all the tenderness
my arms can give. You fall into me and tell me
that nothing makes sense anymore, that nothing matters anymore.
Not your car, not this apartment building, not your life.
The pain of standing by your father’s side
while he treats you like a stranger. It’s like watching
the Aurora Borealis alone from a snowy plateau
in the Faroe Island archipelago; from the woodland
wonderland of Northern Ireland, marveling at the lights
swinging, sashaying above Luosto, Nellim, Ivalo;
from a rowboat in Abisko’s forty-three mile lake,
peering into the blue hole of night,
topped skies of green, amorphous light;
from the center of the Kola Peninsula next to Murmansk,
looking at the lights sparking the pine trees and firs
in bursts of sapphire and scarlet.
Or from the mountains of Svalbard, the baby blue twilight
rippling in waves of iridescent incandescence,
stretching its shimmer across the landscape. Like watching
the glowing summits and feeling inconsequential.
Like standing next to your father.
I kiss you on the lips and grab your head,
pressing my palms behind your ears,
catching the galaxy in your eyes with my steadfast gaze.
Listen to me. Please listen to me.
You’re not lost in the void. You’re not inconsequential.
We all create the borders in our lives, the worlds in our minds,
the prejudices in our stars. Don’t let your father’s ignorance
blind you, drape you in darkness, abandon you like the Big and Little
Dippers, which drifted into obscurity, leaving you cold and alone
in the remote countryside of your darkest thoughts.
Revise the galaxy in your mind. Pull back your hair, allow
the motorcyclist to see the light that’s already inside you.
You tell me you can’t. That’s why I’m here.
To remind you that you’re not alone.
To remind you how great you are even when I myself feel alone.
To remind you that our hearts aren’t lightyears away.
You still have me.
You close your eyes, hiding the pain, keeping your tears in check.
Your head now on my shoulder,
sobs sputtering, feet jolting against the floorboards.
You’re a sad keepsake in your own beautiful existence.
Jacob Butlett attends Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, as a writing tutor and Writing major. He also serves as Poetry Editor at Catfish Creek, a national undergraduate literary journal. An aspiring writer, Jacob has been writing poems and short stories since his freshman year in high school. In his senior year, his short story “Dark Malice” won a Gold Key in the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards contest. He hopes to one day become an English professor.