by Karen Kilcup

Apt to Live
for my grandmother

1. Clearing

Gouging the ground, exposing
perennial flowers, I hack
old growth, hear your missing
half tell us: in mid-March
robins and worms are unnatural.
In the west, a storm blooms,
bruised peony.

Outside the nursing home,
a flight of sparrows funnels.
The vinyl chair uproots
you, your feet can’t reach
the floor, although your stem
is straight as my own. You confide,
I’m getting rid of this fucking chair.
I’ve never heard you swear before.

I imagine the cancer, squirreled away
beside your ovary, a nut, a knot.
When I look up, pink cabbage roses
multiply on paper borders. Today,
you’ve had your toenails clipped.
We talk about your bowels, the tasteless food.
As rain ticks against the pane,
you devour the strawberries I’ve brought,
instruct me to tell your housekeeper:
Don’t give up my time,
I’m apt to live.

2. Testing

They’ve propped you up
with pills and pillows;
cataracts blue your eyes.
Your voice curves
in a joke:
Last night I thought
I was back at school.
I’d just finished
third-grade TB tests
when I had to go
to the bathroom.
I looked and looked
but it was gone.
When I woke up
I nearly wet the bed.

I’d forgotten those tests,
the stapler snagged
our forearms, leaving
six red pricks per pupil.
I want to say, remember
when I fell, the pony
standing on my arm,
your calm drive here,
how you held my hand
as I went under?
I want to say,
remember when your barn
burned, and I was away?

Your words see me
down the blinding hall:
I’ll try to dream of you
tonight.  I wonder why
we rarely think of tests
we pass, only
those we fail.

3. Growing

Jagged as a daisy,
your profile’s etched
behind my eye, your sunken
mouth rimmed with foam.
The groans grow
as I approach.
They can’t be yours,
coming from a shore
so old I hold my breath.
I plunge through
the open door.

The sheet sinks, white tide.
How can it go lower?
A nurse in a tulip print
skirt floats in.
With a fluid hand
she elevates your head.
I’m going to take your pressure,
Mary. Adjusting the cuff,
she squeezes the black bulb,
sounding hidden currents.
I hold one swollen hand, cold.

When I was small you held
a buttercup beneath my chin.
Did I like butter? You chanted,
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
how does your garden grow?
You laughed and sang,
You have to water it, you know.

Cousins clot the room;
the hours long over,
nurses silent, kind,
I say goodbye.
Behind the frothy curtain,
in the next bed
a woman sobs to her daughter,
I’m sorry I can’t stop
drinking.  I never wanted us
to end like this.


Image by Nowaja via Pixabay