Floyd Skloot

A Brief Portfolio
August 20, 2021 Skloot Floyd



As the fight went on my father set
aside his cigar and I could hear
his thick breath begin to whistle
through his nose. He stopped
folding and unfolding his glasses,
stopped shifting forward and back,
rolling his shoulders, clearing his throat,
scratching the small scabs on his hands.
Even in the cigar haze and winter
dark, even after he had cleaned
himself and eaten dinner, I saw
specks of blood and feathers stuck
to his skin and smelled the gore.
Fridays were the market’s busiest,
when he slaughtered two hundred
chickens before shutting the doors
and coming home to sit with me.
I watched him settle into the center
of the space we shared, waiting
for his eyes to narrow, his lips move.
He did not need Jimmy Powers’ voice
telling him what was going on.




I have been looking for him at the edge
of dreams or within the shadow of shore
pines and dune grass behind our house.
Once I thought I saw him moving across
the trail in the heart of Manzanita Spit,
a ripple caught by the sun that turned
out to be two white-crowned sparrows
bathing in a puddle. I heard a grace
note above the keening wind at high
tide and tried to convince myself it was
him, that voice he used only to call me
home. Or maybe he was the wind itself
brushing against me with its briny scent
lingering, wind-borne grit or shimmering
spray backlit at dusk by the setting sun,
the shifting shapes along the tide line
at moonrise. All summer and fall after
turning seventy I searched for him
though I think I already knew my brother
had stopped coming back to me.




The idea was to keep running full stride.
Even as I hit the takeoff board, even as
I moved through the air, I would keep
running. Don’t think, Coach Gold told me,
but as you sprint, reach for the space
beyond resistance and then be sure
to accelerate more. Never look down
but trust your speed, lean into it
and soar. I remember all of this
now, dream it, as Parkinson’s disease
makes the air I move through seem
dense as roiling surf. Snared in a tangle
of dead brain cells, I lumber and lurch,
drawn down into myself, unable to keep
up with my wife when we walk unless
I think about each step, about moving
my arms, lifting my feet, about finding
and following the rhythm of her breath.




The day my brother died
my wife and I assembled
a collage of three photos
in a plain pine frame
I have kept on my desk
since 1997. Here he is
at eight, seated on his bed,
dressed in a white strap
tee-shirt and checkered
pajama bottoms, holding me
across his lap. Behind us
my crib is so close to his bed
they look like a single unit.
He gazes at the camera
as though daring anyone
anywhere ever to try
taking this newborn brother
from his slender arms.
In the center photo, faded
by years of light, he crouches
beside me in a Brooklyn
parking lot. All that remains
clear is the way his shirt’s
horizontal stripes appear
to merge into my jacket’s
vertical stripes. He reaches
toward the camera to reveal
something that now appears
to be a blazing star.
Like memory itself, the rest
remains vague: our cousin
crouched on my other side,
two cars parked beyond
a dog-fence, a bit of trash,
shadows pooling below us.
And here he is in the last
year of his life, blind eyes
cast down as he laughs
and leans forward waiting
in his chair at the head
of a table for the pair
of the desserts he has
ordered. Before him,
as before me, a glass
holds a single red rose.




Last year there were still times I could forget
I have Parkinson’s disease. I could scramble
up Neahkahnie Mountain, take long hikes
with my wife and daughter, sustain ninety
RPM on my stationary bike for forty minutes.
Last year I did not need to be reminded
to stand up straight or swing my arms
when I walked. I could talk and dice
vegetables at the same time, turn a screw
or open a jar of pickles with either hand,
think of that redheaded actor’s name,
the one who played Nicholas Brody
on Homeland. Some days last year
my voice did not become thin air
in mid-sentence or if it did I could rely
on singing “Mack the Knife” to fill it out
again. “Look out,” I could sing,
“Look out old Macky’s back.”




I found myself
one morning near the end
of the year unable to stop
moving, my toes curling
and uncurling, ankles flexing,
fingers rolling over
each other, random arm
and leg muscles flickering.
Deep in my body’s core,
where there is no
room for it, a tide
of hidden motion surged.
Standing, I swayed
like a man at prayer.
I felt at once chased and
captured, energized
and exhausted, beached
and stuck in a rip current.

Floyd Skloot‘s ninth collection of  poems, FAR WEST, was published last year by LSU Press, which has given the book its L.E. Phiiabaum Poetry Award for 2019. LSU also published his collections THE END OF DREAMS (2006), THE SNOW’S MUSIC (2008) and APPROACHING WINTER (2015). His work has won three Pushcart Prizes, The PEN USA Literary Award, and been included in THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS, BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE WRITING, BEST SPIRITUAL WRITING and BEST FOOD WRITING anthologies.