Poetry: 2 Poems by Mike L. Nichols
Numbers Game - 1984
Teen drug rehab begins with ten
days PJed detox on a locked wing.
Stare through the steel Safe-T screen
at the playground swings across the street.
Stand in line with the other jonesing patients
for your cigarette ration. In group sessions
say nothing unless pressed.
On Family Day circle up
in the one-on-one room.
Talk about the damage
you’ve done. Then,
Mom is saying
The cancer came back.
Like a relative you never liked, knocking
while opening the door calling,
And it’s spread like,
like cancer. Everywhere.
Maybe three more months.
Definitely not a year.
Dead mom walking.
In group you can talk about
fourteen-year-old girls selling
sex for a quarter gram,
or drug deals gone bad with
keg-boots to the back of heads,
teeth congealing in gutter red,
but you cannot picture her
faded husk filling a casket.
On Family Day you sat side by side
holding hands and cried.
See her tendons laced with
bulbous blue-green veins.
A connection, for a moment
greater than the unknown
sum of her remaining days.
I followed the simple set of instructions
promising power over death while
offering nothing for the alternative.
No means to cork the shuddering
grief at graveside.
Dehydration’s the danger.
If I can just plunge the nutrients
and some water into her
throat every 2 - 3 hours
there’s cause to be hopeful. Life doesn’t
feel like an illusion
when I’m wiping the shit
from her ass again.
Random stars twinkle
coyly at me while I wait for
some sympathetic or sagacious
presence to shout back from
the blackness that’s