I was having trouble sleeping.
To try, I drank. When I slept, I sweated, woke
in early darkness, stumbled up to piss.
Back in bed, I remembered things—
the breath of the adults—
a Christmas party I went to as a boy—
the children’s hands
taken into bigger hands, our endurance
as our faces were touched, our hair touched, re-arranged.

I walked all day to exhaust myself.
Buses were long insects
turning onto Broadway.
In this way the winter passed.

But it didn’t pass.
I was living in the north,
and the sky was a stone,
blank and frozen.

At night it lightened, pink,
fed by the glow from the town.
By morning it returned,
whiter, lower.

Every 26 days I flew south for a weekend with my sister.
Each time I appeared she seemed in some distress—
her brown hair, once thick, was thinning—
the drain was clogged—
and I tended to her before returning.

Back in my rooms, I opened the cabinet.
I closed it.
I thought:

if I could wait till 8 pm—
if I had a half glass of water in between—

the second and third drink—

the fifth and the sixth.
I lay awake. I thought of distant ships
flinching toward each other
on the green screen of a ship’s radar,
a mass at the bottom
to represent land.

There was a dragon in the book
my father read to me when I was young.
It flew over cities. Its nails
were claws. Its head was
noble, broad and scaled.

It slept with its face
tucked beneath its wing, in the rear of its cave,

It was protecting something,
or had been forced to.

Through the wall, my neighbor moaned
in a way I envied—to be so filled.

I got up and poured—
the torches of planes
passed through the sky.

Time passed as slow as a hair
trying to grow through skin.

Snow fell.

Time passed
fast as that same hair
cut by a razor.

In February I went south, fixed blinds
to her windows, cleaned her rugs.

She seemed better,
and worse. She slept, but her hair had grown sparser,
the dark strands
stark against her pale scalp.

What ailed her was inexplicable—
I thought of how our dog used to gnaw its tail
till it bled.

I stood by the window
until the windows opposite became slim
lit bars.

She toppled a plate
as I packed to leave.
We circled the date of my next visit.

It became important to me
whether the dragon was good.
Who were the women who came to visit him
in their dresses, with their scepters?
What was it guarding?

I couldn’t remember—

was the dragon kind? Would it hurt
just to hurt?

Its tail could sweep men
into a moat at a flick.

When it breathed,
something burned—

its whole body seemed a weapon.

There was a place between the sixth and eighth drink
where everything diminished,
the body inside but at a distance
from the wall of the shell but
still encased in the thin lucid membrane—

needles, tubes, the soul’s liquid
filling up a glass—

she’d called to say they’d drained a cyst—

and I stood in my living room
as I’d once stood as a child
on the shore, in the tide,
the draining sand sinking
my feet deeper, my arms out for balance—

At the terminal I arrived at in her city
the moving walkway was always broken.
A display of miniature weather balloons
in festive colors adorned the air
near the ceiling, in all seasons,

and because they were there in all seasons
and because the defining features of my visits
were the ebb and flow of her condition,
and the nights spent by the window watching
light return to other windows
as the day came,

the visits, over time, grew indistinct from one another,
like the trick of the one bright silk
in the clown’s fist
becoming many
and then becoming one again.

The balloons appeared to float.

I went back and forth from my sister’s door.

We grew close.

She took an interest in my duffel
and when it became worn,
she bought another, and another in anticipation
of the previous one’s deteriorating condition.

Beside them, in the closet, she made a space
for my sweaters.
Frost spread across the windows.

And when I was having trouble sleeping,
to try, I drank.

And when I slept, I sweated, woke
in darkness, stumbled up to piss.

And when I was back in bed
I would remember things—
a Christmas party I attended as a boy—
the breath of the adults—
the sky lowering each morning—
the dragon sleeping over its bars of gold.

Grady Chambers