Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum

     {from Nightwork}


The hardest thing for Edmund was the diet.  Certainly, you needed to watch your sugar, but didn’t the nurses tell him every day that his sugar and acetone levels were quite OK?  Well maybe harder was the smell of garlic coming from Greg Marston’s locker.  Just that alone pervaded the room so that you were constantly reminded there was food, real food, not this hospital stuff, in there just waiting to be eaten by someone a hell of a lot more deserving than Greg Marston.  Not that he was anywheres near so bad as they made him out to be, the ones that ran the joint or just worked there, or even the patients themselves who couldn’t put up with his uppity ways or how that story got around that the way he lost his leg was he had a cast on and he never went back to have it off and the maggots got in there and he had to have it sliced off below the knee.  Who the hell would believe a story like that?  They were really just jealous, couldn’t talk on the man’s level.  Hell, Greg Marston had been a broker on Wall Street.  There weren’t many like that.

     Right now it was early morning, maybe 6 AM, and Edmund Skuzz was lowering himself down the end of the bed into his wheelchair, sliding the good leg first, and then the stump, quiet like, just to keep the ones outside and Marston and the creep from hearing what he was up to.  The way they put the rails up at night so you couldn’t get at them?  The place was like Alcatraz.  And you would lie there smelling that food and knowing that there was something even more delectable just a few yards off, over in the creep’s cabinet, the Polish guy, Kolokov or something—he could never pronounce it.  And never make out where he got his shoes, the funny black ones with the point on the wrong side, as if his feet were all wrong, not that anything else wasn’t with the stroke that had him bent up and garbling everything he said, half Polish, half nonsense, the whitish blond hair like some kind of Communist agent and the pale eyes that were always turned the wrong way when he tried to speak to you.  Only thing about that man right now was what he had in the cabinet, only saving grace, a dozen Twinkies, only one in the whole pack gone, and if Edmund, old boy, could just get his butt safely over there with the good foot, the only foot propelling, he would be pretty near in paradise.

     Marston had had them all against him the moment he got the guy on nights to start bringing in all the food.  Even more when he started to be putting garlic powder on everything he ate, even  his Jello.  They all said it smelled worse than body waste, not really having the compassion to forgive such a tiny failing in a big man like that who had played football at Princeton and was in with the big wigs over in Upper Saddle River, even the alcoholic that he was, if even that were true, so much they said against him.  Edmund had never seen him even sniff at a drink, let alone sneak in a bottle.  You should have seen the type that came now and then to just drop in and chat—even lawyers, mayors, people of the highest breed and culture—and it made Edmund proud to be the only friend of Marston’s on the ward, though knowing enough of the man’s psychology to never ask him for the slightest hunk of bread, a slice of cheese, a bit of cake, but to rather wait for the offer, and those came readily enough to usually pacify his hunger. Knew enough not to sneak over to Marston’s locker this early AM, big man that he was with those powerful arms and fists like mallets that would just snuff him out like swatting a fly should he anger the man.  No, it was safer right now, settling into the wheelchair, inching his way toward Kolokov.

     What would Tommy King think of this?  Fag that he was, Tom King would forgive.  Even sneaked him packs of sugar at mealtimes, he would forgive.  Tom King knew what it was to hanker for something sweet.  And Tom King knew poetry.  The truth was there were only three human beings of culture on the ward, and one of them, God rest him, was a fag, and the other was an amputee from maggots, if the story was in any ways true, and the third was Edmund Skuzz, who had made his living as a bartender in only the highest class of places for 47 years till the diabetes got him and he lost a leg to sugar, but who had learned all he knew from talking with the lovely important people who had sat across the hardwood from him and had given him all kinds of information on the stock market, on the law, on the medicinal nature of certain herbs, on astrology, on fishing, sports in general, philosophy, history, metaphysics, and the nature of the human condition.  It was a formidable threesome for sure, Edmund knew, in his heart, just as he knew poetry from the people who had spent an hour or so across from him, knew Joyce Kilmer and Edgar A. Guest, not to mention Hugh D’Arcy, not to mention the song writers, the men that delivered them, not to mention the way he himself could imitate Rudy Vallee if you gave him the time and space to compose himself, slick his hair back, fondle his chin, and deliver that lilting tone.

     Just a few feet left.  The Polack wasn’t stirring.  It was still twilight in the room, just enough to make his way to what he longed for so badly he nearly could cry, some real food, some of those lovely Twinkies the creep’s wife had brought in along with those funny little shirts without any proper buttons, along with sausage that just melt in your mouth if you got a hand on it, licking your fingers.  He could hear his breathing.  He could hear the Polack breathing ever so sluggishly, and then he was just at the drawer, just inching it out, when he saw the creep’s left eye flicker open and then wide, and Kolokov was twitching and screaming, and Edmund had a fistful of Twinkies and was shoving them in his mouth and back-pedaling and the old man was shouting in an incoherent crazy mixture of what had to be obscenities, and Edmund was as far as his bed and lifting himself over the end with the good leg dragging, when the lights flicked on and Nurse Saxon was over to his bed and Marston was hollering, finally out of his stupor, and all the excitement ended in Edmund's urinal where he chucked the Twinkies, and he knew as he knew his own soul they would have it on morning report.  Knew in his own soul it was worth it . . . . . . . Knew!