John Wood

The Angels of Our Expectations

For some they are probably
handsome young men
smiling widely, as in some bright
photographed moment
once long ago; for others,
tough, demanding women
uncompromising in the rigor
of their wishes; and others,
solid, manly girls who go sweet,
soft in the seclusions of an embrace;
and still for others, perhaps,
a no-longer doddering mix
of mothers all looking alike,
grown young again and more lovely
than all the other women
whose arms ever held their sons.

“‘Carl, Carl,’ they called,” my father said
describing his having nearly died.
“They were burlesque girls, looked like
Sally Rand, but without her fans. I could see
right through their gowns, could see it all
because the light was so bright,
and they were drifting all around me calling
but couldn’t see me. ‘Carl, Carl.’
‘I’m right here,’ I said. But they couldn’t see me.”
And when my mother ran to the door
screaming that he was turning blue,
an orderly picked up a 200 pound oxygen tank
and ran down the hall with it,
and soon Daddy was back in his bed.

This was in 1950, and I was three.
But I heard the story often—
years before the slick God-hucksters
started packaging those ladies and their light,
turning that one last comforting fling
before the brain shuts down for good—
or thinks it’s shutting down—a final
orgasmic flash in the face of extinction
and decay, one more moment
with the angels of our bliss—turning
a last rapture’s gold and glowing grace,
life’s final affirmation,
worthless, turning it into the nightmare
of perpetuation and monotony, worse
even than that shackled stupor
of old Eden…unless, unless
all memory of sense and touch,
that thrill of flesh,
was erased in those high,
terrible hospitals of heaven
where white robes moving
with angelic speed
and knives bright
as the morning star
lobotomized away
all we’d ever loved.