Modern Gods

By John Haggerty

My father’s skin is parchment thin, a page in a holy book I’m unable to read. They’ve made a sacrifice of him in there, one respirator cycle at a time, each labored breath a prayer to the fierceness of their love.

On Sundays, when I was a child, he used to bring out his leather-bound copy of Gray’s Anatomy to show me the miracle of the body. We would sit together in his big office chair, and he would touch the diagrams and then me. Here is your carotid artery, he would say, tracing it. Here is your scapula. He was proud of his place in the age of reason—a modern exorcist, casting out the demons, making the body whole.

    When they called me, I let them have him. A stroke, they said, unlikely to regain consciousness. I told them to do what they thought was best, and that’s what they did— their very, very best. The two of us sit with it now in a sterile purgatory, halfway to hell.

    I reach out and gently remove his respirator. With my thumb and forefinger (distal phalanges, fibril septa), I pinch his nose shut, covering his mouth with my palm (septum, ethmoid, mandible, thenar). An alarm goes off, and then another, until all around us, the machines raise their voices in a chorus, a shrill call to a worship of modern gods.

John Haggerty's work has appeared in Confrontation, Los Angeles Review, Opium Magazine, Santa Monica Review, and War, Literature & The Arts, among others. He was a runner-up for the 2007 Bridport Prize and a finalist for the 2011 Scott Prize. He is a first year MFA student at San Francisco State University and at work on a novel.

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