i. Before the sky turned blue

They – newcomers and tourists – insist that it always rains in this city. He isn’t so sure. Yet, he does recall an abundance of rain in that first winter: damp hair pulled tight across his forehead, lips pressed against the cold zipper on his coat’s canvas collar, a slight shiver in his thin white chest. He always seemed to be waiting for something.

Waiting for the bus…

Day breaks

Cobweb dawn
of a knitted black

He spends eight hours a day belonging nowhere, but with his keys, he has access to everywhere: operating rooms, clinics, laboratories, resident’s rooms. Frequently, he ducks into chemical soaked broom closets for brief rests; he has even masturbated several times into cafeteria napkins, somewhat thrilled at the risk of discovery and the nearby chattering voices passing obliviously in the hall.

It is inadvisable for him to be seen anywhere without a mop or, at least, pacing determinedly with sanitary gloves hanging at his side – the emblems, along with the hazy smell of disinfectant that cloaks him, of his position. These emblems serve more to mask than to reveal; nurses, doctors, radiologists take no notice of him until they have a favour to ask. He suspects they think him a nuisance: a spy, a brute, and overpaid.

Geriatric extended care

Sweeping around one patient:
“Can you help me? Can you help me?”
in pathetic infirmity, naked
except for a thin sheet hanging
from sharp bones

a broken kite on a bare tree

He realizes that one must be patient in this line of work. Like a foraging ancestor ten thousand generations past, he must await the good fortune of sudden discovery. A friendly approach by a pretty nurse, a dish of mints he may pluck from unobserved, a tabloid magazine, stashed by a Barbara or Diane in a closet, that he can read in secrecy: these are the chance happenings that seem to motivate the evening’s hands to revolve more quickly.

The odyssey

There’s a mole
in the ocean

He wears fifty
dollar gloves and he
swims in
a circle

He is intrigued by his male workmates’ lies and deceit. One confesses to him about a serious gambling problem; others make crude innuendoes about extramarital affairs. In most cases, it seems more boastfulness than truth, but who can really be sure?

If with little else, he is fortunate not to be assigned to the graveyard shift.

Overheard in the fitful street

“Couldn’t make it to the pub?”

“No, I needed a shave and a shower and by then it was too late.” His raven hair swept back towards his neck, with his fingers, like feathers.

“So, life’s good? Obviously, look at the size of you.”

He admits to himself that he is more an observer than a member of this group. So, he says nothing, digging into his microwaved bowl of leftover chow mein or biting into a wet chicken burger in a wooden bun.

He rubs his fingertips across the bottom of a knob in the corner of his forehead.

There is something wistful and exhilarating about the bus ride home at midnight. Few other passengers seem to be coming from work – but to or from what errands are they going or coming? An opened window lets in an icy breeze as the electric trolley snarls quietly downhill between its periodic, hissing stops.

Tired of snakes

“Exhibit A…”
and the tyrannosaurs bite her neck

“False wisdom…”
until brain toys become obsolete

“Sold babies…”
the light on in the porch

“Trees wait…”
so we enabled the moon

“The fridge noise…”
like the stranger who’s sleeping

“My yard never existed…”
can you

Most bus riders are rarely worthy of notice; they are simply too familiar: human and safe. There are solitary silent women, however, that absorb his attention – more, he knows, because of his momentary loneliness than any overwhelming sexual attraction.

Chicken strips to the wolf

Which one of you
is fool enough
to dine on a plum
simmer bone sauce
stir with a plastic spoon?

Someone mentioned everything
causes cancer

The winter is restless and enclosing, all but the joggers storing fat like opposite grizzlies indoors. The streets look ugly and pioneer-stricken, nothing going on but carpentry.

He walks out – January, his birth month, for what it is worth. An ascetic rectitude blanches the unfrosted sidewalks, the white houses exposed in their inevitable defenselessness, the hills caked lightly with snow powder.

He wrests his limbs from stupor, puts his feet to the floor. He showers and eats stale cereal softened with milk, then heads for the bus stop three blocks away. The cars spray him with invisible clouds of sour exhaust. The mountains hang like forbidding black slabs behind the drapery of mist.