Death Becomes Us

How many canes can one observe without finally exploding?

He walks with a cane and smells like a mouse.

He has food caked on his shirt.

There are stains on his cuffs. He smells of urine and old socks.

His wife attacks him; she berates him.

The old man will die of emphysema.

My mother promised to leave him. “Why would you go to his funeral?”

She didn’t want a priest or a minister, she wanted show girls and fireworks, a real display.

She wanted to humiliate him through his brother, Don. She ended up disgracing herself.

She’s glad he’s dead. Glad he’s gone. “Hallelujah. He’s a goner”, she yelled.

 

He asked not be resuscitated, but she forgot. He wanted to die in peace, why not?

She was asked but was silent. The paramedics smashed out his teeth

and jammed a pipe down his throat. He lived for days.

He kept a lock on the door of the den. He ran in there when my mother was irate.

She’d slap him in the face. She’d kick him.

 

She’s a drunk.

She gulps a few glasses of white wine and wants to tell her story.

It’s a story of abandonment, an empty nest. We flew away.

She refused to get his meds. She’d tell him to get them himself.

He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t drive. She was too busy.

He was deaf but she accused him of faking.

 

It is true that when we talked about money, his hearing came back.

Suddenly, his hearing was perfect. When I mentioned money, he heard

the figures. He smiled when he got a bargain. Money talks.

When she complained, the batteries “died.”

He couldn’t make them work. He turned them off.

He grew tired of listening.

Sixty-one years. That voice. The rage. The badgering. The nagging.

She wanted him to wipe the shit off the toilet seat. “You clean it!”

 

Unhappiness is intolerable.

When does it turn to hate?

Why does it turn to hate?

 

She drank white wine from a tumbler.

She called her cousin in Kingston

and said she hoped he’d soon die.

He was 67 but looked 80.

She wanted some love before she died.

She wanted some male attention.

 

 

“I thought we were going out for dinner. I’ve been waiting.”

“You’re drunk. I can’t go out with you now.”

 

She could barely stand and stank. She’d been drinking all day.

The drink made her hate. The booze brought out the rage, the loathing.

She was ready to die to make a statement.

Oh, it boiled over, like a chemical reaction. Like quick lime and water.

She overflowed with self–hatred. It was volcanic.

My arrival lit the fuse. The hatred couldn’t be contained.

She belonged to the IRA. She was ready to die for a cause.

He sat on the floor in front of the heater giving instructions, making judgements.

The body goes. He was cold.

 

When she said she had a friend who offered to go down on her, I took my cue.

It was time. Every confession, a taunt, an effort to humiliate, if not herself, then me.

Old age invites humiliation but being disgusting is a choice. It’s a fashion statement;

it’s a great way to get back at a snotty son, prove to him he’s wrong. He doesn’t

come from a good family and there is not a goddamned thing he can do about it.

The little shit. She’ll show him. He wants people to think well of him. She’ll

expose him as a fake. She’ll show everyone his family is trash. He thinks he’s so

refined with his fancy degrees. She’ll get everyone to see him for what he really is,

the son of Catskill Mountain trailer trash, ignoramuses, the children of potato farmers,

depression-era desperados, the kind of people who prostitute their daughters to

New York businessmen with hard-ons. They were sent to the City to join typing pools,

spending ½ their time in the pool and ½ on their knees.

 

That’s the so-called middle-class from which he descends, little clones of Clarice, that lost

girl with nightmares of bleating sheep. Yes, one hides behind one’s shined shoes,

one learns to talk fancy. College is America’s finishing school where we learn to get along.

One learns to eat brie and drink white wine when what we crave is draft beer and a basket of pretzels. We learn to wear slippers and don silk jackets. This is how some people live,

sure, but there are many more who’d prefer to loll about the house watching TV,

half-naked, looking more like an Italian immigrant on his stoop, a stud in a wife-beater.

 

The veneer of respectability is thin, we see it now; it’s out in the open. We got it with the Clintons, we see it in Trump. It is easier to hate than to see ourselves. The money doesn’t disguise

who we are. Only the Kennedys had enough to hide their smell. How much perfume can one wear?

JFK knew what he wanted from the WH typing pool; Jackie called them the White House dogs. It all comes out. Bill Clinton left the back door open. The Arkansas state troopers procured the typists. This is what made a man of Hillary. Women learn to adapt. It’s the men who don’t understand.

Not a Cookbook