Chuck Madansky


High Stakes

This is how he grows: by being defeated… — Rilke

The angel’s office is in a mall, a storefront featuring God is Love
t-shirts and bumper stickers—she’s a low-level seraph, stuck
with marginal cases. We agree to a game of cards—
less sweaty than wrestling.

The angel sits across from me and plays her first card—
the rippled arms of a tupelo. I trump with burnt koalas.
She comes back strong with a child’s laughter,
I tender an infant caged at the border. 
Angel: The arm-around-you smell of a dog,
Me: The alcohol swab before the vet’s needle.
She slaps down dawn,
I counter with cancer.

On we grapple, the stars disappear.
Undone, bone-tired, I play my last card—grief.
The angel touches the hollow
of my hip. I forget my name.
The margins of her head are backlit
by willows.






The Secret Life of My Heart



My heart has been having an affair
with calcium. Their secret congress has evolved
into a dull ache, foreboding arrest or failure

and shudders as our dog does, at thunder
only she can hear.  I still love my heart

who must have her reasons,
who loyally bails her 4-holed canoe
and drums her funky rhythm and blues.

Lately she stutters, as if caught in a lie,
blushes in tones of tumbled jasper, skitter-
hops shy and quick as prey.

Last night she couldn’t settle for all the promises
sipped from a cup of coffee.

I want her to know I don’t blame her
for wanting escape or a new way to live.
There’s just so much to love.



There’s only so much I can love. For years, I make the mistakes of war—hate hate, build walls against walls—my heart wants better armor than ribs, hardens a shell, makes chalk fall out
of the sea of my blood into ramparts and redoubts. There’s just so much to grieve.




I’ve come close to death a few times—
once on a dive, once on a mountain—
I was younger then. My only thought?
So this is how I die.

The other day I sat dumb-
founded on the ground,
heart pounding, chest heavy
from breathing in too much
garden lime spread in the wind.

But this time I thought:
I haven’t done what I came to do—
solve the problem of cruelty in me—
learn to really love. Funny—
when faced with death I wasn’t
afraid, I was just disappointed.



The doctor’s hazel eyes convey a mixed message—do you want to die or not? A loose thread hangs from the blood-red embroidery on her starched white coat. The philodendron on the sill is dry; with me, she takes her time. Outside, a cottontail blinks from the brush. There’s just so much to love—the tangled wires of the EKG, the parched plant and window glass, the cumulus sky, a flicker that I mostly see the white of as he flies away—