I don’t want to rise and leave
your head still on the pillow,
the sun barreling through the window.
You and this ache and this diamond light.
I know now that I want only this.
That the ache is a way in.
That the light is a way out.
That you are both light and ache, a door
that swings two ways. My lips seek
your collarbone, a supplication.
Me, dragging all my Marley chains.
You with your ring of iron keys,
your strong, patient hands.
When she grew tired, refused to eat, would go nowhere
outside the house, we pleaded with her to go there,
to the doctor who she claimed to like. She’d make excuses–
weather, father, hockey on TV. The status quo. There
in the home where we grew up, each surface shined and set
with photos of our younger selves, she’d call and we would go. There,
there. Groceries. Company. As it got worse, we begged
some more, but she wouldn’t hear. Falling is what got her there,
frightened in the ER. Once admitted, in her bed and gown,
she said, Something bad is happening. I just know. There
in that same room, we got the news. Late stage. Few options.
More refusals. Listened to her choose how to go, there
in that white room, answering every question No. My brothers and I
crying in the car so my father wouldn’t see. Watching her go, their
sixty years flashing before him, he bent his head to hold her hand
through every visit. She wanted to come home. When we got her there,
she could not speak or eat or move. We swabbed her mouth, read to her,
fed her morphine. She waited for her last grandchild to show. There.
Heard her voice and completed her farewell list. Later that night,
my brother in a chair beside her bed, she let go. And there
in that house, my father now, alone and yearning for death, refusing
to accept her gone. Daughter, courage. It’s time again to go there.
For years, my favorite story about
teaching featured a first grade girl,
round-faced and doe-eyed,
who entered the classroom one morning
weeping. I knelt down beside her,
asked her what was wrong, if she was
hurt. She wailed between sobs that
she almost forgot her lunch. But
it’s right there in your hand, I said,
see? Everything is fine, there’s nothing
to cry about. But I ALMOST forgot it,
she repeated over and over, her breath
catching in between words, the thought
of that unwalked path simply
unbearable. How sweet and naive
she was. How innocent, to mourn
a thing that did not happen. When
I visited the nursing home one night
in November, my father swatted at me,
pushed me away when I tried to kiss him
hello. Mumbled prison. Mumbled
conspiracy. Told me to go to hell. Told me
and my brothers to stay away since
we were all in on this together. That we
were lying about my mother’s death.
That I should never come back. I knew
he didn’t mean it, but for the first time
in my life, he didn’t say I love you
when I left. I still crumble at the thought.
It was almost the last time we spoke. Almost.
*"Karma" was first published in Tar River Poetry (V59, I2).