Michael A. Flanagan


Sometimes they take him off the van in the morning
and it’s like a convicted murderer being hustled down
the row toward the death chamber, three or four people
around him, hands at his elbows, ushering him along
on his crippled legs, keeping him from assaulting staff
or peers, getting him to a bench in front of the care
facility, telling him all the way that it will be all right,
sitting with him there, asking what’s wrong, knowing
the most he can ever come up with is that he’s frustrated,
a word he’s been taught to use when he has no words
for whatever brain malady at birth made him unable ever
to choose his own dinner, understand the premise of the
simplest children’s movie, go on a date with a person
he might one day love. With his balding head. With his
neatly trimmed mustache. The cellphone he loves blares
bad Christmas music beginning in July. He’s a man child
with a grip stronger than a fleet of destroyers at sea.
He grabbed a workers hair between his fingers once,
pulled her low. He was about to start raining blows
on her head but was stopped just in time. That same day
he sang like always, off key, loud with joy. When asked
if he thought he had a good voice he replied without
hesitation, No. Then he began the song all over again.
“Listen Michael,” he said, “I’m singing fiance,” meaning
Beyonce. Holding his poor deformed hand aloft
he shakes it along to the music, a grin wide enough
to beat the world all over his forty-three year old face.
When a game show comes on in the tv room and a buzzer
sounds he tells the television to stop farting. He thinks
the word beer is funny. And the word poop. The bastard
has charisma. All the other clients who aren’t afraid
of him love him to death. There are parents still alive
who love him. Two brothers who love him, two sisters.
Still, he’s in a group home. It was overwhelming
for his mom and dad. As they aged the demands
on their time, the acting out. Physically he’d started
to hurt them. What care worker has ever loved a person
the way a parent does? How many swings with his fist
before Danny’s shoved against a wall, his head pressed
into the sheetrock? Unless they die first and early a home
is pretty much where every mentally challenged adult
in America ends up. Ten dollar an hour people with maybe
two jobs and not enough sleep paying rent on a place
a lot less nice than where their charges live. A lot
of the world is as angry as Danny sometimes is. All
bruises aren’t raised by accident. Thursday of the week
just gone by Danny apologized to me when I was putting
him in the car for an outing in the community. The seatbelt
wouldn’t click closed. “Jesus,” I’d said, “this belt is bizarre.”
His voice in response was high and sad and desperate.
It was all up to me whether he got to go on that ride;
he didn’t want my mood or problems to get in the way.
It was beautiful and honest anyhow, the words he
spoke: “I’m sorry the seatbelt’s bizarre Michael.”


Danny, Again

Larry died. He’d been going to the center
for mentally disabled adults where I work
for almost ten years. He was a decent man
of sixty, always thirsty from the meds
he had to take, willing to steal any drink
left alone for even a single moment, but
in all, a kind, non verbal gentleman, never
really bothering anyone. All day Larry
walked back and forth through our rooms,
anxious, smiling, sitting now and then,
but never social with his peers. We went
as a group to the funeral, escorted a few
clients, said goodbye in our way, not
knowing any of Larry’s elderly relatives.
Days later, Danny, one of our most
talkative guys, needy as hell, full of life,
always grabbing for attention, wanting
an audience, was by himself in the small
front room, seated on the ratty couch
in there, clueless that I’d come up,
that I was standing outside the door.
With some bit of formality, he cleared
his throat, tuned his always present phone
to the song, Amazing Grace, announced,
This is for you Larry, then, in his horribly
off key voice, sang along full throttled,
stating afterward, We love you Larry,
we miss you, months later still the only
person to mention Larry Taylor’s name,
the single voice remembering, since they
put that quiet, lonely soul in the ground.


Michael A. Flanagan was born in the Bronx, N.Y. Poems and stories of his have appeared in many small  press periodicals across the country, including, most recently, Paterson Literary Review, New York Quarterly, Examined Life, Slipstream, Nerve Cowboy, and Tribeca Poetry Review. His chapbook, A Million Years Gone, is available from Nerve Cowboy’s Liquid Paper Press.