Like Wild, Dying Horses

Brett Foster


If I had, in some perversely mandatory display
of optimism, to find a single “strange upshot”
to the five or so weeks of the liquid diet, the twisted
bowel, the thirty pounds lost, to remind myself
of at most an instant when I thought to myself,
“Well, this at least can make it momentarily worth it,”
it would have to be the self-pity-inducing way my clothes
began to hang upon me as if I were a west suburban
scarecrow, and how that canopy effect impressed upon me
with somatic force and a son’s recognition memories
of my always skinny father, enduring his own seasons
of further leanness. He diminished so rapidly
the last time, after the gamma-knife surgery
delayed the destined end only by evacuating forever
that testy spirit I had always known and shunned,
so that during the final four months he tip-toed
around his house in San Diego, a baggy-robed invalid.


The first time, when he battled the freshly diagnosed
lymphoma that he would eventually overcome,
so new he decided to keep it a secret, not wishing
to tell everyone and ruin the already divorce-tense
and fiery weekend of my high-school graduation,
I noticed when he appeared in his dress clothes
before the ceremony, held on the football field,
that his suit was like his own dark field in which he tried
to conceal his fearful wandering. The day before,
for a few hours together when he left his new wife
at the hotel and determined to assuage his guilt –
helping me purchase a sensible used car for college –
I failed to notice any overt sign of his suffering.


For the first test drive, wishing to feel better off,
we lived larger than either of us knew was feasible,
tried out a convertible Mustang on Missouri Boulevard.
Innocent and immortal, I did not see that as he sat
in the backseat, May air whipping through the cab,
his hair, made dispensable by chemo then unknown to me,
was little by little being blown from off his head. He told me
of the hair loss only later, laughing with a vodka martini
from a place of regained safety, his cussedness restored.


It didn’t in the end make him bald, that test drive
by itself, but even if it had, I feel entirely convinced
that I, at my age and lacking any knowledge of the world,
would not have understood the fact for what it was,
would have instead encountered him, once out of the car,
key back to the salesman, smiling and puzzled at his hairless head,
maybe noticing at that point, too, his eyebrows’ absence,
and said, “What magic trick are you playing on me today?”




Brett Foster is the author of two poetry collections, The Garbage Eater (Triquarterly Books / Northwestern University Press, 2011) and Fall Run Road, which was awarded Finishing Line Press’s Open Chapbook Prize. A third collection, Extravagant Rescues, is forthcoming. His writing has appeared in Boston Review, Hudson Review, IMAGE, Kenyon Review, Pleiades, Raritan, Seattle Review, Shenandoah, Southwest Review, and Yale Review. He teaches creative writing and Renaissance literature at Wheaton College.



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