Jaws of Life
by Maria Elena Caballero-Robb

    Outside Charlottesville one night, you let go
    of the wheel, rolled the car and slammed
    upside down into a roadside ditch. The metal gave
    like muscle gives,
    like cell walls collapsing.

    You hung strapped in, lids fluttering, and tried
    to crawl up the sleepthroat
    of your life. You climbed backward
    past packing your dead parents' house,
    to see yourself take up painting again,

    and us, your two grown children, shrunk to babies,
    ferried back to hospitals.
    You watched your wife get slimmer and climb,
    once and for all, out of your convertible.
    All the days unmade themselves,

    narrowed to a point, then burrowed to the underlife
    you sprang from. You were just digging in
    when they sawed you out. With pincers they pried
    your neck off the ceiling,
    and the "jaws of life" swallowed you back

    into your house of cut, contusion,
    bruise, house of parts. House
    of ribcage cracked, the concussed skull
    that hauled you through the next

    spooked year, house stormed with her voice.
    House in which you soured in the basement
    with your books, and the television glowered,
    mute like a face. House of clutching,
    thrashing love, barbed

    tongues, clumsy gift. House, once,
    of chopping blocks and bottles, a rolling
    pin razing rows of tumblers, wooden spoons
    splitting on small palms held out
    like stunted rubbery wings, feathered welt
    rising on a wrist from a belt buckle's tooth.

    That was the house where I saw you,
    a year after the accident, a little drunk,
    cock your left leg, twist, cup your hand
    behind your ear, and pitch a phantom fastball.
    For a moment you stood looking over your shoulder,

    fleet as a vandal whose rock's just
    broken out a darkened church front.
    Through what panes--into what deserted places
    _____smoky with the uncascading of days--
    through what murk of choices made
    and not made did you hurl it?






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