Two Poems by Robert Joe Stout

The Caregiver Talks About Chronic Fatigue

 If I, like her, had a disease
that sucked my strength, forced me
to pack away the work I craved,
took my need—and my ability—
for making love away, I’d lose all sympathy
for healthy partner’s hurts and whims
—if I were her. But I am not. The “me”
inside—the “me” I am—keeps rapping
at the shell,  “Hey. dammit! Let me out!”
I hold it back, a close-hauled ship
with sails in tight, try not to grit
my teeth too hard when she declaims,
“You know you’ve had it easy, hon.” At times
it even seems she’s right. Financially
we’ve had enough to live the way
we want to live—that’s been the easy part.
What’s hard is having only half a life.

       7 a.m.  Morning coffee in the kitchen.
                     Son hunched over cereal, spouting grunts
                     in Game Boy language:   
                    “Better start to get dressed, pal.” 

        9:30   Shower after six-mile run.
                   Fruit and oatmeal. “How ya feeling?”
                   Her smile like winter sunrise
                   filtered through her nod.

       2 p.m. Hiss of water on the burners.
                    Pasta cooking. Oil ready for
                    diced cloves of garlic. Salad wilting.
                    “Wash for dinner.” Moment’s pause,
                    then set the table. Another
                    daily duty done.

        6:30    Back from the store too late
                   for sunset. Son out skating.
                   Few minutes on the couch
                   beside her. Dog begging
                   for its night-time walk.

        10      Beer mellowing the slope
                  of evening. Snack to curb invasive
                  hunger. Goodnight kiss. Arrange
                  the pillows where I sleep alone.     

Sometimes, when I’m with her, I feel like an actor
in a movie being dubbed into a different language
from my own. And sometimes I can push
up high enough to see a future
where we’re running hand-in-hand and laughing,
kissing, taking off our clothes. She tells me
she is getting better and I nod, confirm
improvement, wonder if I’ll hold on to this health
she envies, call the way I feel about her love.


When His Wife Was Very Sick 

The place a mess—rentals always were.
Toilet entrails jerry-rigged, nuts rusted
against bolts. He cursed, then checked himself,
walked to the door. A jay in the mimosa cawed.
Too hot to do this kind of work… But a rental
needs a toilet: Fix it or the system—clean up,
tenant, added income—falls apart. Wrench
and pliers, grunts and curses and the bolt
came loose. He rubbed blood off
skinned knuckles, bent the plunger
downward to save water, sighed. Now just flush
the kitchen drain, replace the window screen.
Hankie around his knuckles he turned
on the water, tightened the flusher chain.
Looked up. His wife, bathrobe wrapped around
her shoulders, “Hate to ask this honey but—”
“Glad to do it,” he responded pushing tools aside,
each new chore as vexing as the last.

Reared on the isolated plains of eastern Wyoming, Robert Joe Stout writes about Mexico and social and political incongruities. He currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico.