When it was her time, I moved back home
Without hesitation or reservation,
As sometimes the bonds that are least explicit
Are the most inviolable and unbreakable.
Remarkably, the hospice “library”,
Which consisted of some vintage magazines
And ragged paperbacks crammed
Into a jerry-built bookcase of a sort,
Had a copy of Where The Lilies Bloom,
Which, in that long ago after the noble Ben Cartwright
Or Walt Disney himself
Had shoved us off to bed, she would sit
And read to myself and my younger brother (each of us,
Through the twin vessels of the musicality
Of our mother’s voice and the proximity of sleep,
Unduly susceptible to fictional magic)
A chapter per night as our just reward
For being good and well-behaved boys.
Now I read those same pages
Which, in my head I could still hear
As clearly as if I was still in footed pajamas,
I read to her, a chapter at a time,
And it did not escape me
That the inflection and cadences,
Albeit in a somewhat lower register,
Had not, despite the months and years
Rolling indifferently onward,
Varied at all.
Years ago, we’d had a dog;
After months of pouting and cajoling,
My dad took myself and both brothers
Up to a little farmhouse near the golf course
(Owned by the kindly, icy-fingered old doctor
Who put us through the paces of the annual school physical),
Where we selected one of the end-results of the liaison
Between a pure-bred and a purely-by-accident.
We brought her home, looking for all the world
Like a lollypop that had lived under the couch for several months.
She was a constant growing up (indeed, she outlived my father
By well over a decade), chasing cars, rolling in shit,
And sitting by my side as I gazed
Upward at the slow moving, anthropomorphic clouds
Through schools, hangovers, a fiancée or three
Until, nearly blind and gimpy from one too many a rendezvous
With Volvos and Vegas, the old girl wandered away one day
Not to be seen until animal control stumbled unto her,
By that time too far gone for anything but the needle.
Poor thing, my mother said often for months afterward,
I should have never let her go that long.
I’d asked once, perhaps more sharply than was my right,
Why she hadn’t taken her to the vet
(Not that I’d have made the trip, mind you),
But, through some combination of sadness, embarrassment and vexation,
She never saw fit to answer the question.
You cannot be serious, my older brother said,
His indignation palpable through the wires.
The years have buffeted him about—lost partnerships, failed marriages,
Various other disappointments, self-inflicted and otherwise,
And, rather than look inward, he has looked heavenward,
His God, as is so often the case with the newly converted,
Being of the Angry Man In The Sky variety.
He and I, except for our sole surviving parent,
Are the only ones left to carry on this debate,
Our younger brother carried to God only knows where
By life’s wind and wuthering, unseen for years
(Although my older sibling, in response to some unforgivable offense
That neither remembers, has not visited his mother in ages).
Who gives you the right to decide these things? Who elected you to play God?
It is the product of all the restraint I can muster to refrain from answering
Well, I’m here, just like I’ve always been, damnit, but the frayed network
Of the odd phone call and annual Christmas card
Is a great deal stronger than it appears, and I can simply say,
Barely loud enough for him to hear, I don’t know. Not you.
She remains, a mixed blessing to be sure, remarkably lucid,
Quite aware of where she is and what the denouement shall be.
She will smile as I read to her from the dog-eared paperback
(Hopefully, its general dilapidation won’t mean missing pages toward the end),
Even saying Go on, keep reading on occasion, but more often
She appears irritated, vexed even, as if the notion of my assumption
Of the role of narrator is an affront,
Though to what she cannot articulate or make clear
In her own mind, but she says—clearly, calmly, resolutely—
When I finish the chapter
And make ready to leave, Well that’s enough for one night, anyway.
There’s plenty of time for more of that tomorrow.