Sweatpants balled up where his legs would be,
but otherwise just like the others parked in the hallway,
nodding to visitors. Next to him
his best friend, obese and in a cowboy hat,
holding a chihuahua on his lap, and next
on his wheeled throne the hateful former pastor
my mother mockingly called King David,
who endlessly shouted help then go to hell
to anyone’s approach. This was the usual
gauntlet I traversed to reach her, through a bedlam
of beeping monitors, a bevy of abandoned
walkers shod with gouged tennis balls.
Now she’s gone; are the others?
Surely there’s still the faint smell
of urine and bleach, an announcement overhead
bingo is about to begin. Surely the squeak
of nurses’ shoes on beige linoleum, a cry
unheard and a pull cord stained with blood.
Before I had to leave, there was a silence
we’d hold together. Her welling eyes
would scan the window pane for the doe
with a broken leg we’d watched all that winter
limp out sometimes from the naked trees,
how we studied her for clues when she appeared
and made the silence with our breath to lengthen
the glimpse. It lasted until it had to end,
like an embrace. Then I would make my way
back out, the bingo announcer’s shout, B-4,
and a woman looking down at her card
slowly repeating it aloud.
Sometimes I dream too vividly,
I go to be with my dead,
I wake and they’re still alive
in my mind so I stay there,
the longer I am here, the more
I shuttle back and forth. It’s
almost like reading, the part
your eyes read, and the part
you see in your mind, that you
can read even with your eyes closed.
Hard to say what living is.
Right now it’s to be by an open window,
midnight in September, rain falling
in Warsaw, looking down from
a hotel room at a neighborhood
under renovation, construction cranes
and whispering lindens, gleaming
black roads that invite your gaze.
To exist on earth, if you are lucky,
is to be alone then with loved ones,
or with loved ones and then alone,
to walk streets among strangers, to speak
the language or not, to stare for hours
into a glowing screen that didn’t exist
in childhood, or, just now, to feel
the cool wind twist around bare ankles,
while rain echoes below, drops landing
in little claps, a steady, somnolent applause,
it is a sentence, a syntax that continues,
a spell of little letters, a voice,
a connection made with the beloved’s eyes,
how that sustains, how it comforts, how
it prolongs one’s longing, how it’s almost
too simple to say. And too strange.
How what doesn’t ever actually happen
is no small amount of being alive.