Elegy for My Two Toes
I lost you in the summer of 2020
to my surgeon’s scalpel
in, of all places, Altoona, Pennsylvania
where I suppose the remnants
of your ashes reside in the murky bowels
of the hospital incinerator
I prefer to imagine you hopped
a freight where trains slow, turning
at the famous Horseshoe Curve
or pretending to be two small thumbs
you stuck yourselves out
for rides with long-haul truckers
and housewives looking for excitement
I suppose I should have much more
to say about you, seeing we lived together
for 63 years and a few weeks
But, honestly, I don’t
Hanging out at the border
of my left foot, my surgeon said
you didn’t much help me stand or walk
I drowned you in baths
Shower water rained down on you
like tears I should be shedding
I trimmed your ragged nails
I stubbed you just
often enough so you could send me
telegraphs of pain
reminding me you existed
But now you’re gone forever
slipping away in the darkness
of anesthesia, like two roommates
who’ve worn your socks and shoes
and owe you years of future rent
The heart surgeon shared her secret with me:
“When I opened your chest,” she said,
I saw a town inside—
a book store on Main Street, a college,
friendly neighbors waving hello.
A canal ran through it.
In fact, the scar that runs down the center of your chest
follows its path.
I asked the attendant to open the lift bridge,
and he did. The other four bypasses
I performed myself,
rerouting the flow
as best as I could.
Neighbors gathered as if watching a parade.
They murmured among themselves
about how you were doing
and how long this might take.
The surgical nurse wiped my brow
so sweat didn’t drip like rain
into blocked-off streets.
Closing your chest muffled their cheers.
I left detour signs
for the altered direction
your blood flowed.”
A few years later after an angiogram,
I saw those signs on an X-ray—
arrows pointing the new way into town.
Antonio Vallone is associate professor of English at Penn State DuBois, founding publisher of MAMMOTH books, poetry editor of Pennsylvania English, a co-founding editor of The Watershed Journal Literary Group, which provides journal and book publishing opportunities for local writers, and board member of The Watershed Journal. Collections include The Blackbird’s Applause, Grass Saxophones, Golden Carp, and Chinese Bats. Forthcoming are American Zen and Blackberry Alleys: Collected Poems and Prose.