Assisted Living

by Jeanne Bryner

Beside his chair walks a shadow
but where’s the candle to lift, to light
what patron saint protects him?
Our town’s wheelchair man, legs
bent and angled, crooked feet shod.

Long ago he knew the forge; see
leather gloves, fingers cut away?
Twice a day he slogs himself to town
then back. They say he must, or off
he goes to fetid wards, a boy
denied warm mush.

Lime vest tied, pigeon thin, he leaves,
returns to his window’s sill. Hooked
to his pole, Ukraine’s flag. Still,
a lady’s car hit him; tired clay, over
he fell into the wilderness of us
a moving forest of trunks and knees.

He buys coffee—ten guys adrift
tethered to our halfway house. It’s hell.
They snarl their rooms are just pens.
No mom, no smokes, cold oats and this man
pale as a fallen moon? He grows smaller,
his arms and face pocked. It’s hard to tell

if he remembers July’s sweet lake
from the soggy dock, mother waves,
noon they taught him to swim. Buddy, 
just lie back and float; I’m here,
I’m right here. In his father’s hands,
his whole body.

Jeanne Bryner’s family was part of Appalachia’s outmigration. A retired board certified emergency room nurse, she’s a graduate of Trumbull Memorial Hospital School of Nursing and Kent State University’s Honors College. She has received awards for nursing, community service, writing fellowships from Bucknell, the Ohio Arts Council (’97, ’07), and Vermont Studio Center.  She lives near a dairy farm with her husband.