Brain Tumor with Stardust

He recalls the old songs even better now.
Taps the one hand he still thinks is his
on the bedspread, beams at the unseen
audience, sings like he’s got the whole band
behind him—he was never like this.

Back before seatbelts, nights on the road
home from the drive-in show in the black
Buick, Mom beside him up front,
I’d be slumped in the back half-asleep

and hear him—Sometimes
I wonder why I spend
the lonely nights
dreaming of a song…,

stirred by just a word of conversation
between them. She’d join in…
they’d bicker a little over the lyrics.
Yes, that much—then quiet again.

Now, the teenaged bandleader unhinged,
he swings the one arm he owns in the air
out over the bed, conducting “A” Train
into the room, a packed high school gym,
sweat-humid, pheromone-tinged!

The headboard and lampshades disappear
in the dim kept in by the curtains, and young
dancers composed of dust motes spin, swing-
step to the tempo of his air baton, then

he takes up his transparent clarinet
and sputters a throaty frenetic solo—
a burble of blue-white surf, thrash
of a breaker rolling toward us, ghost-
father and ghost-son standing
together on the Atlantic City shore…

I can hear the cymbal-crash, and the theme….

Lord, the abandoned hand’s uncurled,
first time in weeks, its fingers working
the silver keys. My eyes are blurred
with sea. He’s the happy maniac,
last wisps of what suddenly-white hair
the rads have spared brushed wide by a gust
off the beach…ah, we are everywhere

we’ve been together—yes, and before,
in the ballrooms, on the roads, by the waters
and in the halls of his era, I’m there
with him now! A breath, a breath…he tires.
His eyelids lower, the gimp hand falls back
into that closed repose of neglect,

limp at his side, in the room
where he snores—a brushed snare
or a janitor’s broom. The dancers have died.


[“Brain Tumor with Stardust” first appeared in Naugatuck River Review.]