The Yellow Woman
Cirrhosis has bloated her,
as if a lifetime of beers has not gone anywhere.
Her belly so swollen she looks pregnant,
her skin yellow, like a polluted river.
The whites of her eyes glisten with yellow veins.
She’s just my age, in the middle
of the middle of life.
I can still see loveliness of cheekbones
under the rough surface of her face.
I can still see the young girl
when she turns her head on the small pillow.
The last year of the sickness, she tells me,
she lived in the parking lot
of the liquor store and begged quarters for pints.
I don’t know how she lived
to wash up here with a dead liver.
When I tell her, “It’s good news.
The HIV test was negative,”
she smiles faintly, her yellow eyes fill,
and she reaches an arm up and hugs me to her,
her clean tears wet against my neck.
That’s when I let myself feel
how it could be me —
how it is me —
yellow and sick, on the bed there.
And then I feel her thirst
break over us both
in an enormous wave of longing for
the pure bite of alcohol,
the one-two shot, the near-death stagger
toward the ecstatic threshold —
and then the cloudy fall
with all the pain in the world
waiting at the bottom.
In such a time as now,
when all the bodies
we live in are poisoned,
what do we cling to in the tide of our undoing?