Chuck Madansky

 

High Stakes
                                 

This is how he grows: by being defeated… — Rilke


The angel’s office is in a mall, a storefront featuring God is Love
t-shirts and bumper stickers—she’s a low-level seraph, stuck
with marginal cases. We agree to a game of cards—
less sweaty than wrestling.

The angel sits across from me and plays her first card—
the rippled arms of a tupelo. I trump with burnt koalas.
She comes back strong with a child’s laughter,
I tender an infant caged at the border. 
Angel: The arm-around-you smell of a dog,
Me: The alcohol swab before the vet’s needle.
She slaps down dawn,
I counter with cancer.

On we grapple, the stars disappear.
Undone, bone-tired, I play my last card—grief.
The angel touches the hollow
of my hip. I forget my name.
The margins of her head are backlit
by willows.

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Life of My Heart

 

I

My heart has been having an affair
with calcium. Their secret congress has evolved
into a dull ache, foreboding arrest or failure

and shudders as our dog does, at thunder
only she can hear.  I still love my heart

who must have her reasons,
who loyally bails her 4-holed canoe
and drums her funky rhythm and blues.

Lately she stutters, as if caught in a lie,
blushes in tones of tumbled jasper, skitter-
hops shy and quick as prey.

Last night she couldn’t settle for all the promises
sipped from a cup of coffee.

I want her to know I don’t blame her
for wanting escape or a new way to live.
There’s just so much to love.

 

II

There’s only so much I can love. For years, I make the mistakes of war—hate hate, build walls against walls—my heart wants better armor than ribs, hardens a shell, makes chalk fall out
of the sea of my blood into ramparts and redoubts. There’s just so much to grieve.

 

 

 III

I’ve come close to death a few times—
once on a dive, once on a mountain—
I was younger then. My only thought?
So this is how I die.

The other day I sat dumb-
founded on the ground,
heart pounding, chest heavy
from breathing in too much
garden lime spread in the wind.

But this time I thought:
I haven’t done what I came to do—
solve the problem of cruelty in me—
learn to really love. Funny—
when faced with death I wasn’t
afraid, I was just disappointed.

 

IV

The doctor’s hazel eyes convey a mixed message—do you want to die or not? A loose thread hangs from the blood-red embroidery on her starched white coat. The philodendron on the sill is dry; with me, she takes her time. Outside, a cottontail blinks from the brush. There’s just so much to love—the tangled wires of the EKG, the parched plant and window glass, the cumulus sky, a flicker that I mostly see the white of as he flies away—