Mark Jarman

May 19, 2016 Jarman Mark




This was the woman who remembered her childhood.
This was the woman with a girl’s voice.
This was the woman who recoiled from cameras.
This was the beauty who hated her pictures.
This was the woman who loved dining out with her children.
This was the woman her grandchildren knew as a ghost.
This was the woman who bore no resemblance to herself.
This was the woman who slipped away. We watched as she passed out of sight.
This was the woman who gave us no clue.
This was the woman who never lost her sense of humor.
How could she have held on to laughter and nothing else?
This was the woman lost for so long we could hardly remember her.
This was the woman our spouses recalled as ebullient, full of laughter, up for anything.
This was the woman who for days after she died came back to me in images of her anger.
This was the woman whose leavetaking was long and exit abrupt.


She was unconscious but listening.
She was unresponsive but responded.
She lay in the room where the doctor spoke to us.
She lay unconscious, unresponsive, preparing her response.
She did not wait while we left to make arrangements.
She did not wait while we walked out to the front desk.
She must have heard we told ourselves later.
She must have decided we assured ourselves later.
This was the woman who lay unconscious and listening.
This was the woman who lay in her bed and left.
She left before we could return to see her off.
She had loved our visits, we believed, and hated saying goodbye.


My earliest memory of her is of standing in the doorway
of the bathroom as steam poured out around us,
and I saw her coming forward, naked, annoyed
that I had interrupted her shower. She is there
in a body I have never forgotten, leaning toward me
and telling me to go to my room. The body she left us.
I must have been three or four. I could see the blank cesarean scar
where my sisters and I emerged. Fifty years later,
dressing her after her surgery, I would see her body again.
Young and old at once. No change but difference.


On her stone we have written
On her stone we have depicted
We have etched on her stone
Engraved on her stone
Unveiled her stone reads
Her dates on her stone are
We have spelled her name
We have agreed that the stone should say
We have agreed to unveil
The empty air

Mark Jarman’s most recent collection of poetry is The Heronry (Sarabande Books, 2017).  He is Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University.