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Sample poems

The Couple

 

They no longer speak in words—

it is impossible to hear her whisper

and frail neck muscles make it hard for her

to lift her head.

I do not know if he ever holds her or

if they even live in the same room.

But I have seen them knee-to knee, holding hands

across their wheelchairs.

I have caught the quiet secret in their eyes

when an orderly delivers flowers to her lap

and reads the gift card that bears his name.

My eyes have heard them talking.

 

 

Grounded

 

My best friend is grounded,

not because she has done anything wrong, rather—

each time I put on boots, coat and gloves,

I am the guilty one,

the decision-maker, imposer of limits.

Each time I head out the door without her,

I am the scoundrel cheating on her

like a callous lover.

 

My best friend is housebound because she is old,

because there is no clear winter ground,

only deep snow banks she can no longer climb,

trails that take their toll on arthritic joints,

depths that strain a willing heart,

turning a joyful bark into a wheeze.

 

Each winter I have watched her faculties decline,

seen her horizons diminish,

so very like those of Nellie at the nursing home,

her eyes too blurry to read,

knotted fingers too crooked to write,

knees too weak to offer balance.

 

Can’t react fast enough?

surrender the car keys.

Leave the toaster on?

relinquish the house.

Forget a daughter’s name?

forfeit choice.

 

Every day I enter my living room,

decide what’s for dinner or read a paper;

each time I tramp down a snow bank

or head toward town,

I am the deceitful offender.

I am the blind charlatan—

headed toward my own grounding.

 

 

Privilege

 

Pamela is painting a flower this morning.

Arthritic fingers dip delicately

into reds, greens and blues—

sliding across slick white paper that might have been

like paper once used at the butcher shop, where

her mother sent her for a pound of kielbasa.

 

She gingerly dabs each finger into a different color,

barely remembering times

when she plopped young willing hands

into its delicious squishiness.

 

I help her place a rigid thumb to paper

to form petals of a blossom, dragging it slowly

down

the page

to make

a stem.

 

Aged-spotted and wrinkled, these hands

once diapered squirming babies,

molded cookie dough for Christmas snacks

typed letters to soldiers on the frontline

and folded in prayer for a less fortunate  neighbor.

 

Today I hold her still wedding-banded hand,

nails neatly clipped, above a tub of warm water.

Noticing thin-skinned palms, veins showing

like tiny rivulets under newly formed ice,

I swab each frail finger with a wet towelette

to remove stubborn paint.

 

Cupping her hand in mine, I wash as if

I am John the Baptist

bathing the Master’s feet.