“Talk to Me” by Mike Nichols


These jagged, oval walls I climb
toward the haloed light of sky,
but the voices ease me down again
shifting, settling inside my mind.
Keeping me company
though I don’t want any.

 

They showed up,
skulking one by one
like junkies
propped against the payphone
outside the Kwikee Mart.
Always getting words in
edgewise or otherwise.

 

Lately, I worry.
What if there’s only one?
Some Rich Little type
muttering allegations,
his impersonations soured
with the subtle flavor
of martyred mother.
And I say, softly, to myself
Here, mom.
Take my hand, mom.
Don’t be afraid, mom.
Come down off the cross, mom.
We need the wood, mom!

 

Whatever.

 

An orderly bunch
these voices are
like an A.A. meeting,
no leaders only
trusty servants – twisty serpents.
And the voice who showed up first?
Yeah.
He’s the worst.

 

I was three or maybe four
and half asleep
lying on the floor
when he first pressed into me
like a palpitating marshmallow
his bouncing bass beat.
Whispering:

 

Life – Is – Dangerous. Repeat.

 

 

His voice lucid,
sensible if insensitive,
inserting reproving tones
inside my frightened child’s head.
He coerced me
down into the well,
safe from…
death by car and
addictive drugs and
brass cased slugs and
feelings that frame
hospitals
aortic holes
sickly reddish iodine and
teenage suicide and
cells that have metastasized and
one-ton bedroom doors behind which
Cancer sits up, cries out, VICTORY
and the brimstone and fire of eternal hell and
this earthly hell in which we dwell and…

 

Huddled in darkness
Let me rest
and cool my cheek
my child face pressed
against these jagged walls.
Then I’ll stand
to climb
with ragged hands
because

 

It’s cold. I’m lonely. I can…

 

Shhh.
There, there.
It’s safer.
Down here.
In the well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Nichols was born all in a rush just after midnight, with no assistance from doctor or midwife, under a waning Tennessee moon on a chill October night behind a partition at the back of a tar-paper shack in which his unwed mother had holed-up for a time. Mike won the 2014 Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize. His fiction and poetry may be found at Underground Voices, Bewildering Stories, and Black Rock & Sage.