On your back
On a cheap foam
Mattress, covered with
A ripped, loosely woven, blue cotton sheet.
Hard large pillows not right for your ancient curved spine.
They keep saying,
The ghostly osteoporotic leg bone,
Far below your hip,
Snapped in half,
When you fell from your bed,
Your deaf husband calling for
You to come down and set the kitchen table.
He could not hear you,
In your ninety-first-year, in your soft
Seventy nine pound bird voice, yelling —
I am coming, coming, coming, COMING
As you scrambled to get off your bed during an afternoon nap
In a half-awake daze.
For one side of a century
You clung to a great happiness with our father, but for
Almost a decade now,
You have succumbed
Been subsumed in the
The grooves of a long tradition
Of wife as lover and servant.
It’s hard to know whether to be angry or sad,
To rage or cry, we fluctuate
My brother and I,
Because, no doubt about it,
As our father tells it,
Life has given him the
Raw end of the deal
Pretty much for eighty years now.
But we are still so pissed, so incredibly pissed, he
So often calls for this woman,
This old old woman
And how when he does
He expects her to appear before him
As if she could fly down the stairs
Around the doorways
Fast as a Hummingbird.
“I don’t like being
Here, alone, at night”
My 91-year-old mother tells me,
From her bed, in this godforsaken place.
And who would?
Especially someone who’s never ever
In her whole life, ever,
First with extended family, parents and siblings, aunts and uncles,
Then nuclear, husband and two quick-witted penetrating
Unwieldy children of the 1960s.
After we left, decades of woven relations,
Pared away, finally, to just her and her husband.
But never alone.
My mother tells me,
“The woman who was here yesterday…”
A new caregiver we’ve hired to keep her
Company, to keep her from dragging herself
From her bed
Pulling her wheelchair behind her
Out into the hallway for one of one thousand
Possible reasons that might at any moment
Enter her post-surgically demented mind,
And breaking another bone –
“She has two puppies!”
Lucky Susan, I say,
And longingly imagine, just for a moment, soft small fluffy canine bodies
Tiny snouts, padded doggie-scented feet,
Pink tongues, small woofs, human cheek to thick furred bellies.
Behind the curtain brings me back.
Someone has put on the television for the woman sharing my mother’s room.
Even though she is deaf.
What is it about the television in these places?
Paralyzed, unable to speak,
My mother’s roommate,
Sits in a chair in a black sequined pantsuit
Like some never before seen
Black glittering bird from the rain forest,
Or a startled Starling flying by outside
Mesmerized by the trees and clouds in the glass.
Her two daughters have been to visit each day
I have been here.
There is a heavily drawn circle on the calendar next to her chair,
She is leaving on the 21st of January and they
Have big plans for this departure.
This woman who has been the recipient of a tragic gift,
Something, which dances around us all, an unexpected
Renegade blood clot, burst blood vessel,
Groans and moans regularly, not from pain, but from
A fundamental need to communicate.
I have responded to her requests for help
More than once,
It could be me
It could be me
It could be me
It will be me
It will be.
Thinking of a photograph taken thirty years ago
I recently discovered, after my uncle died,
He and my mother are my age,
Tending to my grandmother,
An old woman,
As my mother is now.
It goes so fast
I have no children, no daughters or sons.
It is not hard to imagine myself into some futuristic institution
Alone in the world.
So to my lucky old mother with so much love in her life, I say,
Life is hard, Mom, there are
Times when we have to muster
All our courage
And surely, for you, this time is now.
Please please please try not to worry, I say, addressing my mother’s maddening
Predilection for anxiety-based perseverance.
Digging into my Jew-Buddhist
Attempt at reassurance.
All the while thinking,
When it is my turn,
Take my gun out of my closet, carefully load the copper bullets,
Walk out into the marshland behind my house, and pull the trigger.
An administrator in her outrageous stiletto heels
Clicks down the hallway,
The dark-skinned Caribbean
Women who wipe my mother’s ass
Tread quietly respectful
Underpaid and anguishing over siblings, cousins,
Friends and parents,
Buried beneath the rubble in a massive earthquake,
© Susan Gesmer, Mother