From In the Antarctic Circle
by Dennis James Sweeney
Time stands still. Time contracts. Time follows you to the toilet. Time brushes his teeth. Time spits in the sink and begins to floss. Everything is quiet. You can hear the dental tape in time’s gums pulling out pieces of dinner. Plaque slaps against the mirror. Time glances at you on the toilet. Time turns the faucet on. He runs the water until you can’t stand it anymore. Then you realize he is doing it for you. So you can pee in anonymity. Time leaves the bathroom. Time leaves the faucet on. Time leaves the door open. Time stands right outside, cracking his naked toes.
Let’s suppose the world never ends. Let’s suppose we’re here into perpetuity, cooling heels at the rim of the great gone-cold hot tub. I throw in the towel. It begins to sink. Hank dives in, reaching one heroic hand out of the water where he’s drowning, the towel clutched in it. Soaked. Drying for only a moment before his weight pulls it down to the bottom.
We enact the cycles. We buy in, whether we want to or not, to biotic recursion, watersheds, the boogaloo. But we haven’t forgotten silence, not with as much armchair in front of us as we’ve got. The silence doesn’t circle. Rather lurks, impatient, then jumps on whatever slows.
Hank doesn’t need warning, though today the weather did. The clouds began to settle above us and I told them the hard truth: it’s for your sake that I ask you to move on.
They gave up, as I hoped they would. No reason to dance their white dance on white.
Hank has his own way of coping. Takes the silence before it takes him. He’s like a dog bounding through a field of bones. Human bones, nothing the dog ought to like. But he does. He can’t help it. You can either love the whole world or push it away from you, and the dog is hungry. Hank will chew on anything that smells like it was once alive.
All the earth’s bats are right-side up, sleeping off the fight. They turn white in their hibernation. They won’t speak and don’t have the language. But they are somewhere near, I know.
Sweep the ceiling. Sweep the house. Sweep the table. Hank’s hair. In our jumpsuits. Where we sweat. Our stone of a bed. I’ll turn to the ice soon. Sweep it. Push away the sugar-snow until I find their den of warmth and dark, leathery life.
Still the bats won’t come. Their peeping eyes are shut tight for once. They wait it out.
They know I’ll cave first.
Hank risks glances at me. He sees I’m losing touch. He’s afraid to raise his hands, to warn me against the collapse we both know is calling.
I’ll bite him. He knows I will.
Yes: That’s the day the bats will wake.
Dennis James Sweeney’s Antarctica poems have also appeared or are forthcoming in Birdfeast, Elsewhere, Gargoyle, Juked, Prelude, Requited, Salt Hill, and Greying Ghost Press’s pamphlet series. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon.