Listening RoomThe Poet Speaks

The Six Hundred Pound Man



Of the six hundred pound man on two beds,
nothing remains,
not the bleariness with which he moved his eyes
nor the warm oil curling in his beard.

Though the sheets and plastic bags are gone,
his grunts, his kind acceptance gone,
I see him now, rising in the distance,
an island, mountainous
and hooded with impenetrable vine.

When I awaken to the death
of the six hundred pound man
and cannot sleep again,
I paddle to his shore

in search of those flamboyant trees
that flame his flanks,
in search of bougainvillea
blossoming his thighs,
of women who rise to touch him
tenderly with ointment,

in search of healers, singers
who wrestle souls of old bodies
back to bones, back to dirt, and back back
to their beginnings.

As I enter for the first time
this medicine circle,
bearing chickens in honor of the god,
words dancing from my lips,

spirit like the plume of a child’s volcano

and then the medicine, the medicine is good
and the tongues, the tongues are dancing
and the fathers, oh! the fathers are dancing

and this worthless and alien body,
this six hundred pound man,
I discover him beautiful.

Poet’s Commentary:

“Imagine, if you will, an intensive care unit with two beds strapped together, to accommodate a 600 pound man who can’t breathe and gradually becomes worse and dies.”

*Reproduced with the permission of Jack Coulehan and with special permission of Nightshade Press: First Photographs of Heaven, 1994.

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