Fine Tuning the Chill

--For Karl Tierney

One Sunday morning he decided
not to take the saquinivir,
not to read another poem by Nikolay Zabolotsky,
not to brush his teeth with Oral-B,
not to ask himself again what Cesare Pavese
meant when he wrote
"The only joy in the world is to begin,"
and not to leave a suicide note.
Suddenly he noticed a woman holding the white cane
he'd been given by social services.
"Would you like to go for a walk?"
Nothing would ever be the same.
The breakfast dishes burst into flame,
the soap in the soap dish turned to stone,
the wings of the pigeon on the windowsill
turned into a cop's face on a foggy night.
The woman walked him down the stairs,
supporting him under his right arm.
They left the street door open behind them.
Market Street hummed like radiation therapy.
On The Embarcadero, she said goodbye.
Her final words were,
"There's a beauty in fine tuning the chill."
A single inquisitive herring-gull eyed him
as he lowered himself rung by rung
down the ladder at the end of Pier 17.
The water tugged at his jeans.
The tide pulled open his leather jacket.
The current
lifted his glasses away from his face.

--John Gilgun (1996)