Sometimes I cut the supply for half a minute

And tease him with death.

His toes extend and a cough escapes,

So dry you’d expect dust to burst from his lips.

A tear erupts from his volcanic ash-colored eyes

And trickles down the canyons of his face.

Just as it curls and plumps beneath his chin,

I force air up his nose and pull his soul back into himself

So he can feel the tear fall and sizzle on his hand

And remind him he’s still got time to serve.


Floors are thin in retirement homes,

So the nurses can listen for death

And organ music can bleed through the carpets like a fog,

Giving deprived lungs a rhythm to breathe to.


People on the outside only visit because they should

Or so that someone might do the same for them.

They squeeze time in their schedules

And add family members to their list of appointments and chores.

“Go hug Grandpa.”

“Say you love him nice and loud so he can hear you!”

“Watch the oxygen tubes, sweetie, he needs those.”

Go ahead kid, rip me out.

He breathes on his own when you’re here,

As if there’s some medicine in the company of loved ones.

Take him home with you and he’ll live half a year longer.

But there’s no room to spare,

So the Hallmark cards will suffice and the caramel chocolates are nice,

Even though he’s lost the taste for it

And he can’t read your hurried handwriting anyway.


Floors are thin in retirement homes,

So he can hear his family’s footsteps skipping down the hall,

And the little bell on the door jingle as they leave.


Processed air is aluminum-scented artificial sweetener

And he tries to spit it out in beads of drool.

My hollow tentacle is wrapped ‘round his face like a leash.

And my tank is an anchor, securing him to the Earth.

At eight o’clock the television shuts off

And he lulls himself to sleep with thoughts of never waking up.

Tonight, he dreams of surgical scissors

That snip my arm like an umbilical cord.

I scream and hiss as he’s carried out the window on an organ music mist.


Emily Dempsey is a sophomore Creative Writing major who won Best Short Story and was a runner-up this year and winner last year in the Academy of American Poets Prize. She works as both a Theatre Technician and Stage Manager for the Mukund S. Kulkarni Theatre. She is involved in the Capital Players Theatre Club on campus, enjoys drawing and journaling, and used to swim competitively but has now probably forgotten how.