When you see them outside your window we breathe a sigh of relief. You ask what they are doing out there on the roof in those funny suits, floating around like that. The first words you have spoken since your malfunction. Construction, we say. Maintenance. Though we don’t really know. We can’t see them. We haven’t, like you, been to the other side. If you’ve ever seen spacemen before, you haven’t mentioned them. If we could track these particular spacemen down, look out through your eyes, drift in the ether of your slowly returning mind, we’d shake whatever passes for their hands. Ask them in for lunch, figuring hospital food is the same no matter the planet. We question the doctors about the spacemen. They say it’s normal for someone coming back from the dead.
The doctors huddle with us. Speak in whispers. Sketch out variants of your future for when the spacemen return to their home planet, as we are assured they will. The doctors wear long white coats and have appendages dangling from their necks. You ask if they too are spacemen, snuck into your room through the air conditioner vent. We too wonder, sometimes. The doctors want to implant things in your body. Experimental, otherworldly things. Top secret. Forms will have to be signed. Consent given. We are shown diagrams. Schematics. Artist’s renderings. We are told these will save you. Redeem you, as if you are an object of desire on a cereal box and all we need is enough box tops. We are told these devices will anchor you in our world, on our planet, for another five years. Ten, if lucky. Without them, you will, again, at any moment and without warning, without any chance of return, fail.
We say yes. Yes, to everything. Yes, and as soon as possible. Yes, and yes and yes. We are selfish. We are weak. We are afraid. We love her, we say. We can’t live without her. Repair her. Please. On our knees, we say it.
For a week, for an eternity, we watch with you in shifts, our eyes peeled for signs of departing spaceships. The only way we know when they go is when you no longer mention them. Act as if they had never existed. As if they have wiped all trace of themselves from your brain. We act as if, too. We are happy to see them go. Or would have been, had we. Maybe even waved, bye-bye. Thank you for not taking our mother, our wife, to see your leader. Go in peace.
You review the schematics. You are impressed. You are hopeful. Your mind is sharp. Clearer than in years. You embrace the devices. Sign your life away. The doctors high-five. Or would, we suspect, if we weren’t here. We suspect. Have begun to suspect. We count our box tops and come up short. The doctors pull box tops from their pockets. They look foreign. Cryptic. Alien. We suspect. We plot. In the middle of the night we will smuggle you out. Hide you in the basement. The garage. For as long as you last. As short as. We are selfish. We are weak. We are afraid. We love you, we say. We can’t live without you. The forms. Rip them up. Burn them. On our knees, we ask it.
You take us in your arms. Rock us. Suckle us. Sing to us. Lullabies of time and space. In your eyes, we see ourselves, tiny, naked, reaching. There now, you say. There.
When the doctors come down from surgery, they flash thumbs up. She will sleep a while, they say. Go. Sup. Break bread.
In the restaurant, phones ring. Come back. Malfunction. Failure. Oh, come back, quick. The waitress floats toward us with the check. We bundle on our funny suits, slip into hyperspace. Hearts implode. From our eyes, stars fall.
—Reprinted from Flint Hills Review (Issue 22, 2017) in the author’s collection of poems At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, 2018); appears here with his permission.
is the author of two books: The Aerialist Will Not Be Performing, ekphrastic poems and short fictions after the art of Steven Schroeder (Turning Plow Press, 2020), and a poetry collection, At the Lake with Heisenberg (Spartan Press, 2018). Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2019 and multiple times for Best of the Net, his work has appeared in Chiron Review; Flint Hills Review; Heartland! Poetry of Love, Resistance & Solidarity; I-70 Review; Illya’s Honey; KYSO Flash; MacQueen’s Quinterly; October Hill Magazine; Red River Review; River City Poetry; Shot Glass; The Ekphrastic Review; and the Wichita Broadside Project.
Dean is event coordinator for Epistrophy: An Afternoon of Poetry and Improvised Music, held annually in Wichita, Kansas. He has been a professional musician, having played bass for, among others, Jesse Lopez, B. W. Stephenson, Bo Didley, The Dallas Jazz Orchestra, and the house band for the Fairmount Hotel Venetian Room. He grew up in Topeka and Wichita, Kansas before spending 30 years between Los Angeles and Dallas, where he worked at The Dallas Morning News. He now lives in a one-hundred-year-old stone building in Augusta, Kansas, along with a universe of books, CDs, LPs, an electric bass, and a couple dozen hats. In his spare time, he practices the time-honored art of hermitry.
Hopper and Dean: Interview and poems in River City Poetry
Metal Man, ekphrastic poem inspired by a 1955 photograph of
Dean’s paternal grandfather in the Boeing machine shop; published in
The Ekphrastic Review (28 July 2018) and nominated for Best of the Net.
Windmill, ekphrastic poem inspired by Dean’s maternal
grandfather; published in KYSO Flash (Issue 11, Spring 2019) and nominated
for the Pushcart Prize. This poem is among half-a-dozen of Dean’s ekphrastic
works published in KYSO Flash (Issues 11 and 12).
Llama, 1957, ekphrastic haibun inspired by Inge Morath’s
photograph A Llama in Times Square; published in The Ekphrastic
Review (13 January 2018).