Do you recall the Christmas party at the home of friends?
You stand, dead center, living-room glimmering, shimmer of pulsating lights.
Your aluminum silver-gray cane gleams;
gray tweed coat (voluminous now);
slight fuzz of new white hair lighting your dark palette,
We are leaving the party,
all goodbyes already uttered
but you linger—lungs, liver, brain, riddled, ruined.
Still the longing never dies; the longing keeps you riveted there,
unable to deliver the wishes throbbing behind your luminescent eyes.
Bent and mute, you prolong your visit.
The other guests (your friends)
perceive you simply, understandably, pitifully, slow, sickly slow.
They do not know what keeps you standing there
long minutes after they have shaken your cold hand,
embraced me with their knowing looks.
For they, with time at their command, impatient to return to
comfort, warmth, holiday glow, make merry as they may
but you—neither just staying nor simply moving at a pace
commensurate with your new and crippled state,
seem forever rooted
to the reddish-brilliant center medallion
of the Persian carpet
in the middle of
rather, one by one, are tallying all that you will lose,
telling your rosary of grim adieux
as you have been doing these final months and weeks and days and minutes.
Dieing happens thought by thought,
eked out in swift seconds’ slow summation.
This death-watch enervates, tolling away your life,
and I am depleted, trapped in your loss, bled of all patience, waiting impatiently
for you to accept your fate, yet fretting that I’ve missed your morphine dose.
Later, when I have helped maneuver your body into the car,
after I have driven us home in taut silence, after I have helped you negotiate
the car-door, the five cement steps to the house-door,
attempting gently to remove your coat, flinching as you flinch in pain at my touch,
searching your face, your burning eyes for what it is you want from me,
my pounding guilty ears and heart, your rasping, sad, accusing voice:
Why do we always have to rush?
Why are you always hurrying me away? Why won’t you let me stay
say I am ready to go?
Published previously in Schuylkill Valley Journal, Fall 2006.
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