The Grandfather Clock

poetry 0
Matthew Tuckner

 

Deep in the caverns
of the memory unit,
my grandfather’s trying
to describe what time feels like.

It’s a square on a piece of paper,
he says, it’s shaped
like a brick & I’m stuck in it.
A few doors down, an aide

flattens the raw matter
of a chicken with his palm,
molds it into a hockey puck,
& slaps it on the burner.

My nose knows the smell
of flesh just about anywhere.
I catch a whiff of it
on the woman a room over,

who rarely receives visitors,
who waters her petunias
until the pots pour over
onto the linoleum.

I sniff waves of it
building in the distance,
wafts of skunk
lugged by the wind

to the crack in the window
where my grandfather
sticks his head to smell
the trellised ivy he mistakes

for roses. It’s like somebody
is reaching down from the clouds
& turning me inside out,
he says, his fingers shoved

through the sliver, it won’t
let me sleep until I apologize
for my life. Ever since
they cut the tumor loose

from his carotid artery
he can only speak
the language of gravel.
Words fall from a great height

& catch in his throat.
At lunch, he leaves the labor
to his neighbor who sloshes
the names Cary & Grant around

his mouth like a lozenge,
gouging them for meaning
until they fracture into a hum,
syllables falling face first

into his grilled cheese.
As we lumber through the halls,
aiming to get a handle
on his joints, I invade

the privacy of every room,
the soft light of TV static
on the tongue, each pillow
perfectly fluffed, a dime

of milk chocolate left
wrapped & runny at the center.
He asks for a hamburger,
a buttered roll & a milkshake.

He points at the squirrel
scaling a tree branch.
Calls it a salamander.
I wipe a forgotten hour

from his mouth, push him
until he timbers over
& breaks against the bed.
Two Ativan docked

from the bottle,
one for him & one
for me, we toast
the roses & swallow.

I like to step out of time,
from time to time.
I like to let something
so massive it’s almost

everything reach down
from the clouds
& contort me into
the shape it prefers,

creased at the knees,
head tipped upward,
hands chalking the hours
on the brick walls of my box.

It has a story it loves to tell.
There once was a man, it begins.
There once was a man, it begins.
There once was a man, it begins.

I never remember what happens next.

Matthew Tuckner is a writer from New York. He is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at NYU, where he is Poetry Editor of Washington Square Review and teaches in the Undergraduate Writing Program. He is the recipient of a University Prize from the Academy of American Poets and was a finalist for the inaugural Prufer Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 32 Poems, Colorado Review, Pleiades, Nashville Review, The Missouri Review, Bennington Review, Bat City Review, New Ohio Review, Poetry Northwest, and Four Way Review, among others.