(excerpt from THE BOOK OF FOOLS: AN ESSAY IN MEMOIR AND VERSE)
The man in the next room wouldn’t stop coughing.
All night, terrible hacking bursts. “God,” I said,
“I wish he’d stop.” My mother and I
lay awake in the motel room in San Ysidro
stretched out, side by side, in separate beds
like coffins in which we couldn’t stop turning.
Each morning a shuttle picked us all up,
supermarket doughnuts open on the counter
in the glazed lobby, and glided us across
the border to the experimental clinic
in Tijuana. Around four, it brought us back.
Engines idling for hours to enter America;
women and children lining the stalled highway,
selling Mexican blankets, dolls, noisemakers.
When we reached the front of the line, all we had
to say was Yes. Each night, the same coughing,
machine gun spitfire broken by a lobbed grenade.
Each day, three rooms, patients like a ball of gnats
whirling in slow motion, pushing metal crosses
like coat racks on wheels, weaving through each other
from the dining room to the waiting room and back,
a yellow liquid dripping into their arms.
One day at lunch—I still remember the sickly taste
of unripe papaya; shaving the green-orange flesh down
with my spoon, trying to eat—my mother
told me she heard someone had died in the night.
That night, there was no coughing.
Sam Taylor is the author of two books of poems, Body of the World (Ausable/Copper Canyon) and the forthcoming Nude Descending an Empire (Pitt Poetry Series, Fall 2014), which develops the lyrical voice of a citizen-poet engaged with history, politics, and the urgency of our contemporary moment. The pieces here are excerpts from a third collection, a book-length poem, The Book of Fools: An Essay in Memoir and Verse, which incorporates a number of experimental techniques (self-erasure, strike-thrus, footnotes, and more) into the larger arc of an accessible narrative, while also marrying personal, confessional themes with global, ecological ones. Other excerpts of the poem are forthcoming at The New Republic and Omniverse, and his website is www.samtaylor.us