going up the hill to the house, we
saw flowers that she loved, and picked them
black eyed susans, sweet williams, daisies, columbine.
we gripped them in our plump warm hands.
by the time we made it, panting,
having stopped for toads and all the small things,
we presented them to her half-wilted.
“ragweed gives me allergies” she would say, plucking one of them out.
the rest would go in a vase of honor on the kitchen table
a small token of each others’ love.
going down the hill to the creek, we
see flowers that she loved, and pluck them
dandelions, sweet williams, violets, asters.
at the bottom trickles clear water
over mossy gray rocks
and we tip her ashes in.
they are white
like her hair
like her devotion
white like the sugar in her blood
like the angels she adored.
they swirl the water opaque
atop it we scatter the flowers
a painter’s palette of Missouri colors
blackberry, butter yellow, sap green, slate.
the sandy ashes sink.
it takes a full hour for them to wisp away
grain by grain into the gentle landscape.
we’re used to waiting for her.
no matter how we tried to rush,
she always did move slowly,
tasting her fine wine time.
I knew a man,
though not very well.
A nice man
We were all looking sideways at S——
with her regrowing cancer hair
but death came at us
from an unexpected direction.
I wasn’t even aware he was sick
I cut off the tip of my finger.
It’s not often I am afraid
but I was
I pressed my finger into my palm to stem the bleeding.
It felt deformed. Too short, too flat.
I didn’t want to know what it looked like.
A reminder of my mortality
we get the office email.
He has died. We grieve his passing.
The office is quiet
with heavy atmosphere.
Somebody has set
a vase of flowers
outside his office door.
They have been placed there
by honoring hands,
to honor the dead.
We decorate their haunts.
We create ceremonies.
We save mementos.
We tell stories.
I only knew this man by sight.
Another office worker
someone who helped grease the cogs
of our mutual machine.
We might wave or nod.
He had a habit
of muttering to himself
funny, quirky things.
I would pick up snatches of his internal dialog
when I walked by.
How well did he know me?
My finger is stiff with scab.
I worry at it, clean it, unwrap it, rewrap it.
It will have to last me
a few years longer.
Sitting at my desk, trying to focus at work.
Put this in that folder there,
Type that data here,
Fill out all the little boxes…
What was that.
a ghost wind passes through me.
I continue to type
I continue to read
but something inside has been
and everything’s going gray.
what is coming.
my stomach lurches.
please tell me this won’t last.
the world around me has lost all color.
Death has awoken
and rests his bony fingers
on my shoulder.
life is meaningless.
the world has stopped turning.
i’m back in that place again.
this cold, lonely cell
and i can’t remember how to cry.
five minutes pass… not long.
just as inexplicably
Death changes his mind.
wraps himself in his cloak
and curls back into a benign black ball in the corner of my mind.
as he retires, ambient warmth returns.
The world sets back into motion.
Color resurges into my reality.
I’m in my office again
Still typing away
That for five minutes
I was briefly pushed
Out of their world.
It didn’t last.
It didn’t last.
A thousand orioles picked us up
And dropped us off on the cliffs of Moher.
The surf is white the stone is beautiful
The overcast makes the green glow with health
I see you you see me
We’re in synchronicity
Now how to get back to the city
Off these damn cliffs of Moher.
A thousand orioles congregated
They built a nest for you and me.
We can’t afford a roof
Instead this is what our love hath wrought.
Let us sit together
And suck eggs.
Ireland is falling into the ocean
Rock by rock by rock
We think we’re living
But we’re dying
The sea is rising
Rock by rock by rock
Rocking in each other’s arms
On the motherfucking
Desolate cliffs of Moher.
Reading about Huntington’s
Brings back memories of caregiving
The stress, the pain, the joy, the pain, the guilt
The pain, the pain
My heart aches, it’s full of love for her
But I’ve got nowhere to put it.
She knew what she meant to us.
We told her we loved her.
Remember her calling “I love you” to our backs as we left
When she finally managed to get her tongue around the words
Was it three years ago that we lost her?
Is that all?
Is that a lot?
The wound has reopened
And it feels like she’s still in the nursing home
I’m once again feeling that terrible weight
“I have to visit her, it’s been a while.”
Seeing her crumpled up
Like an empty can.
Sitting in my car
The car she gave me
The car she loved so much
She would still ask after that car
Say things like, I’m glad you have it now.
I would sit in the cab
In the nursing home parking lot
Stare at my young hands
Resting on the wheel, just where hers did
Wonder whose hands they were
Building courage, every time
To go see her
For her sake, to go see her
Because of what she did for me
Because she gave me so much joy
Because we laughed together in that car
Getting pizza, renting movies
She drove me to college in that car for a year
We gave rides to a pathetic classmate of mine
Mom scolded me for not talking nice about her behind her back
Although we were both exhausted by her unending need.
I would sit in that car
Behind the wheel now
Despair gnawing on my brain
Dread gnawing on my gut
Knowing I would have to face her again
Face her dying again
Face her confused tears again
Watch her cough and choke again
Her hands clenched into cold blue granite
Argue away her demands for ice cream, diet coke, diet coke, one more diet coke
They said only two cokes mom… okay I’ll sneak you one more
In my childhood I said yes ma’am
I obeyed without question
It was my joy to obey
She accepted me well; I never rebelled against her
Until she was dying
I finally learned to tell her no
I’d spend an hour
Either fielding her demands
Or talking her down from a mental precipice
On good days, I just got to listen
As she rambled through her own fanciful mind
Picking gems here and there for me to examine
Her imagination truly unfettered.
Every day hurt.
I’m going to have to go through it all
All of it
The spiral is coming back around
And points this way.
It’s still far off
Barely visible on the horizon.
I’ve done things I’m afraid of before.
I’ve gone to the dentist
I went and went until I wasn’t afraid
I’ve taken the worst they can throw at me
And trounced that fear.
I’ve ridden roller coasters
I’ve jumped from great heights
I’ve walked alone down dark hallways with the lights off.
I visited mom.
I can face fears.
I can face reality.
I can face grisly horrors
I can face and embrace the darkness.
We all gotta die.
We all gotta lose someone.
It’s okay to be scared
But being scared is a waste of precious time.
I am strong
I am brave
I can take a lot of fucking punishment.
I can take a lot of grief.
I can take a lot of burden.
I’ve been there.
I will be there again.
I’ve been well taught
How to bear things with stoicism and grace.