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The car's stalled in the blue hills of Connecticut,
Motor softly humming as time
Sun rays melting into a hazy March morning.
I'm alone for a moment – a very long moment,
As Dad rummages through the trunk for the
Challah we've brought here, to Glenview Rehabilitation Center,
Tucked into Woodbridge, Connecticut, like the scar it wants to hide.
There is always the possibility of never going in.
I could stay in this Toyota for two hours, studying my history
Binder and tapping the dashboard to Alanis Morissette
A sun ray slants through the windshield and illuminates
The dust specks collected over the years;
They seem to be scrutinizing me.
The steering wheel is disappointed, the mirror
Thought I was stronger, my iPod is ashamed
Of its owner.
It occurs to me with a pang that I do not know her
Favorite flavor of ice cream.
Dad slams the trunk and pulls open my door,
Wordlessly noting my immobility.
My throat tightens, my skin begins to burn,
The dust scrutinizes me.
My Uggs slide me out of the car of their own accord,
Into the dull sunshine reflecting off the worn-out cement.
I slide toward the doors even as
Everything about this place pushes me back.
Inside, the quiet is magnified by the carpets.
An old man stares out the window, an unopened book splayed across his slacks.
I follow my father down the quiet hallway, eyes flitting to
The rooms filled with wide-eyed old people staring at muted TVs.
Apparently weariness has a smell, and a weight –
I fight to stay afloat in this blurry, soft place;
An alternate universe where death is
Just another empty bed.
Room 76 and she's curled up in a big white sweatshirt,
Slowly spooning Farina into her mouth. She doesn't see us,
And I stare at the skin pulled taut over her knuckles,
Fascinated yet repulsed.
A few brown hairs still stand defiantly on her chemo-balded head,
And a fresh manicure lines her yellowed nails. I am surprisingly
Relieved to see that this bit of her remains.
All I can look at are her eyes – dilated with the medicine,
They appear huge and black and
She doesn't see me yet, a tiny hairless person swathed in
Cream-colored blankets which slide off the bed.
She seems to come alive at the sound of my father's voice,
Grasping my hands in hers.
For the first time, I ask her questions, the ones I want to know
Before she dies.
Nothing makes you talk like an ending,
Nothing so pressing as a last chance.
In a room in a hallway in a corner of the universe, we talk
Her scratchy voice laboriously detailing the Great Depression,
Her painful childhood,
I am glued to my chair in shock,
Paralyzed as she is,
Distantly aware of the parking lot and
The interstate and the tiny window
Overlooking it all, the only real light
Making it into here.
The glaring fluorescent bulbs know no hours but
We must be home before dark and as we rise to leave
She clutches my hand with her bony fingers.
“What's your favorite flavor of ice cream, Grandma?”
“Butter pecan.” Somehow I feel as if this
Knowledge has been sitting inside me, waiting
“I love you,” she breathes, big foggy eyes oblivious
To our tears, and we tell her we love her and plod
Out of the room on the strangely thick carpets, into the
Quiet hum of this world, the sound of loneliness and waiting.
My Uggs carry me back across hallways and wooden desks
Stocked with patient nurses, not getting too close to anyone,
Close acquaintances of death, that quiet creature.
The old man still sits by the window, the book having slid to the ground,
A great and overbearing lassitude having overcome him.
Back in Wayland, I think I imagined it.
Some tiny corner of my mind carries that soft, viscous universe and
The person she's become.
Light slants through the windshield I've been sitting behind for two hours, and
In the car in the driveway on a hazy March day,
The motor hums to itself,
The sun beams through the bare oak trees, and time
Rouses itself for me.