by Judith Skillman
from Kafka’s Conversation Slips
In hospital he’s cared for by his sisters.
Nurses walk up and down hallways bringing and carrying away.
Some days a visitor brings a peony in a vase.
When he gazes into the flower he sees only death.
Why must people cut and abandon?
With their large heads and crinolines of petals.
The pinkish color of pigs.
Pigs who grub the ground without stopping to notice geese droppings.
Pigs who resemble people except for their snouts.
So delicate in their side-stepping, these animals, as if almost dancing.
His sisters are so good to him, adjusting the pillow.
Asking whether perhaps this pill or that tonic would help.
Their voices angelic, their dresses full of flowers.
How can he resist trying to speak?
Yet the coughing wracks and persists.
His weakness increases with each sleepless night.
Finally alone with only the flower, he drifts into an acute state of noticing every brown spot etched along a fold.
As if a letter had been left for him.
A message from a girl he could have loved if only for a year.
He tries to get up from the cot.
Imagines pulling his legs up and plunging them down to the floor.
If only the tiles were warm, he could do this.
For now it’s better to think things over.
A pig would thrust its organ into the midst of the flower and inhale.