by Megan McGinley Simpson
At 0830, the salty, old sailor creaks as he eases
into the exam chair. His gnarled knees crack,
knotted knuckles clutch his driftwood cane.
Under the scrolling gold of U.S.S. Arizona proudly
displayed on his black cap, crusty barnacles grow
on his whitewashed scalp, forearms and torso. Some weep,
others heap with scabs and pits from fingers’
A network of pale, surgical scars connect depressions
on his scalp and arms. “Cancers,” he says,
“spent my whole life on deck.” A jagged ridge
scuttles under folds of fragile skin on his thigh.
“Shrapnel,” he confides, “from 7 December 1941,
the day our ships were sunk.”
Then I see it – a pink sea anemone sprawling
two inches across his chest. Its cancerous tendrils
dive under healthy skin to resurface
millimeters away. I tattoo margins in purple ink
inches beyond its border. “If we excise this, then in time
it will scar,” I explain, “but the wound will be large
and open for weeks. I am worried about you healing.”
The sailor shakes his head, declining the procedure.
“Ma’am,” he calls me deferentially, as if my single butter bar
bridges the gulf of experience between us. “Ma’am, I am 93.
Most of my friends are dead.”
He asks for a soothing oil, to coax the flaking, itching
flotsam of his shins back to shining like new. Protest
cannot not sway him. “Ensign,” his eyes wink
under hoary brows, “I’ve already lived
half a dozen decades on borrowed time.”
With prescription in hand for a soothing salve, he
stiffly salutes as he stands and sways out the door.