John Cullen

My sister and I recall that old Stingray
while we sit a vigil in the critical care unit.
She melts into the vinyl cushions
and I lean sideways, balanced like a circus
acrobat one moment before falling.
My bike rolled sweet, balanced
on training wheels I begged my father to remove.
He wouldn’t lift a wrench without my mother’s consent.
Even Steve Reeves could not have popped a wheelie!
Then, one day he disengaged the pair,
and I rode to the park, where on a dare
from Nancy Haver I jackknifed
a set of concrete steps, snapped off my front
tooth and broke my right arm.
My sister dragged me home while I cried
over my broken bike. She laughs at the memory,
which reminds her, she says, of another story.

Just then our mother shakes
the bedside railing, angry at being jailed,
and calls again our father’s name.
“When will he be back?” She cries.
From my side of the bed, I lift her cup
and guide the polka dot straw to her lips
while my sister punches morphine
and holds her other hand to clamp the pain.
Later, she wakes, and once again
bangs the railing, this time
pulling her oxygen line free,
but the nurse arrives and tapes the tubing.
Exhausted, we slump, almost asleep. She turns
on her side, trying to find comfort
and our father, each of us seeking
balance on the body’s thin edge.

John Cullen graduated from SUNY Geneseo and worked in the entertainment business booking rock bands, a clown troupe, and an R-rated magician. Currently he teaches at Ferris State University and has had work published in American Journal of Poetry, The MacGuffin, Harpur Palate, North Dakota Quarterly, and other journals. His chapbook, TOWN CRAZY, is available from Slipstream Press.

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