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Self-Portrait with Doctor

ISSUE:  Fall 2005

after Goya

             Heat-struck, bleached, a sucked pit
rolling in the mouth of his fever, he lies there,
       ready for the leech,
             anxious, brave, his soul stamping
in the bullring of his consciousness,
       but fragile too, a blown-glass stomach,
                   the bones in his wrists like chalice
stems, the first leech soft upon his skin,
                                like a brush-tip,
                   like a tongue, the doctor probing,
                          trying to look inside,
       as if he might drop his lantern
                   into the sinkhole of the lungs,
                          then scooping
his arms around him from behind,
                          so that Goya dreams
he’s a soldier
             being dragged from the front,
                   the beautiful Spanish dust kicked up
       into his eyes, the doctor urging him
to cough the bullets of infection
             out, though when Goya feels the rim
       of the water glass flush against his lips,
             it’s as if the reared-back horses change
                          to marble in his gaze, rifles
losing their erections,
             bullets leaving only clotheslines
                   in their paths, so that he’s hiding himself away again,
                          smuggled in the basket
             of laundry his mother carries
                   through the yard, wobbling, trying not
                                       to let her see, the wind
                   fluttering the shirttail of his hair,
       his body
             turned now to equal parts tenderness
                                 and rage, the crossed swords
       of his rib cage being raised
                          even as the doctor prepares
             to dunk him in the washing tub again,
                   using his forearm like a blindfold
to protect the eyes, though,
             all at once, Goya glimpses
                   his own face, a watery self-portrait
             that wrinkles through his mind—
       which is how I saw him that morning,
             in the dialysis room, more than a dozen years ago,
strung between my draining tubes as the machine churned
                          the blood out of me,
             his face wrinkled and pale,
                   flapping like the tail of a deer,
       a streak of white that I followed
                          through the green forest light of a seizure.


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