Selected Poems by Sandy Scull


Facing the Wall

Her mouth opens for more morphine.
Eyes close. Index finger touches
a cross at her throat, head turning
towards the wall, where I look
at her four-year-old’s cutout art.
A perplexed ladybug with button eyes
and pipe-cleaner whiskers askew.
Gold fish that look happy enough,
though only one is ascending.
A butterfly dominates in size
with diagonal red brush strokes.
on its wings like crossed bones.
Above the art, a black-and-white photo
of Wynton Marsalis blowing his trumpet
with a personalized inscription saying
thank you, though I don’t know for what.
Maybe Wynton felt permission that night
to play with uncharted feeling.
Maybe it was one soul recognizing another.
Diagnosed while pregnant, she breast-fed
only two weeks before chemo began.
That child’s voice fills the room:
Mommy, are you dying?
She was, and did, four days later.
Later, the daughter takes a before-bed walk
with her father. Sees a twinkling celestial body.
Mommy’s saying goodnight to me.
That light from a now dead star
reaches out to her from a long way off.
I think about art on the wall again.
The self-portrait of a little girl
with colored hearts on her bathing suit.
And yes, she is smiling. And the most recent:
a pink elephant, its trunk hanging low,
black blobs for eyes–one higher
as if asking a big question.

~ Sandy Scull, Living/Dying Project volunteer, writing about his Project client, a 47 year old woman who recently died of cancer


Perched in a window sill
I listen to fluid fill father’s lungs.
His face and hair opaque white.
Skin over bone drawn tight,
his nose like a bird’s beak.
I flew a redeye across. Left my daughter
graduating among budding sycamores.
She strode to accept her diploma
through a threshold of applause.
Both of them–commencing.
Between my father and daughter
my arms stretch wide. In father’s
death I lose myself as son.
Now I breathe with him. Long pause
before the next inhale–testing our trust
that another breath will be there.
Across the courtyard, the brick wing
where I was born. Violent entry leaving
my arm limp in a sling. The doctor
told mother not to worry:
He will fight the next war.
Tears fill my eyes.
His death buffered only by
my brother’s shared grief,
my children beginning to bud,
and the stark aliveness that rings
beginnings and endings.

~ Sandy Scull


I went to war to become a writer, but came home
so rewired by fire the space between words
warped numb. So profane. the eye fucking. Gaps
of deaf and dumb. Incoming and outgoing rounds
deadening my drums. The ear overload of Jimi
doing the Banner amped to the stars.
I flew backwards into Nam reading “A Farewell
to Arms.” The Marine next to me asked,
“That book about bobbytraps?” Humor followed
a trajectory into a dark tunnel where Thanatos
ate fish heads and rice and crawled ever closer.
Once I slept next to a warrant officer from
Grave Registration. He inspected body bags
for positive ID, dental records in hand.
That night I dreamed Late Gothic:
Hieronymus Bosch painting a bad acid trip.
Worms eating anything organic.
I flew home no longer a reader or a wannabe writer.
“For Who The Bell Tolls,” unopened on my lap.
Adrenaline cruised the bloodstream–patrolling
for something with an edge. Combat pay bought
a Porsche. She screamed over seven grand RPM,
like a loaded chopper straining to lift off the weight of it.
Adrenaline on the loose wouldn’t quit neurotransmitting
alarms about nothing. The home front felt like
everyone wanted to be a rock star. Booze
and hash only shifted the scenery towards satire,
until Martin and Bobby got shot.
I’d walk up Pine to Dirty Frank’s, every night.
Black Panthers and art students and everyone
in between. But calm came from another
direction: the Liberty Bell, five blocks from

~ Sandy Scull