Even had I known that Tuesday
was the last we’d have to talk,
I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
He asked me to recite the names
of my seven brothers, four sisters,
an old family game, then stumbled
when his turn came. He persisted
‘til he’d named us steps on stairs,
and after I’d shared a thought,
he said, ‘I’d love you to meet my daughter
Nell, I think you’d get along.’ I’d like
to meet her too, I said, resisting
the urge to say, here I am, I’m here.
My share as Dad’s nurse, daughter
in parenthesis ‘till he came through.
Later, when I’d kissed his forehead,
said, ‘until next Tuesday, Dad’,
he smiled and said, ‘love you, Nell’.
The calls, early of course, only two days later, was it only two days later, my Mom says he’s been unresponsive since 2am, my brother says, ‘come home, Nell’, my sister says, ‘come home, Nell’, I’m already on my way, I talk to myself, I say things like, Dad’s been here before, I think of the time, years ago, he caught me talking to myself and said ‘it’s okay to talk to yourself, Nell, I do it all the time, it’s answering back that spells trouble’, I could never spell, I know when I see him I’ll know, and when I saw him I knew, rage, rage against the dying of the light, Mom is strong, Dad’s beautiful white haired girl, but we mind her, we are fierce in our minding of her, we fly home, his flock returning, our parent’s room our ward, Peter calls, he listens, I talk-cry, the hospice nurse brings the comfort things, we do the rest, nursing our father, all of us with Mom, in the room with Dad, then He arrives, dressed as Granddad, I’d seen him before, weeks before, different guise, but he’d left when Dad sat up, He sits with us now, long bony knees crossed, I know this time he’s here to stay, dressed as my Granddad so to give death a familiar face, and especially when red angels lit from his pipe and set his chest aglow with rubies, did I love my Granddad, in the holiest clothes in all the land, He moves among us, unlit pipe between his teeth, waiting, giving us time to get used to this, we will never get used to this, none of us say, death is in the room with us, it would be superfluous, I talk loudly into Dad’s ear, explaining, my sister says, ‘Nell, Dad’s dying, not deaf’, and because this is something Dad might say, we smile and talk takes on an everyday pitch, we pass round family photographs, travel back in time, our families make us go eat, sleep, we are not hungry, but we eat, we sleep, fitfully, we gather again, we say the same prayer now, go gentle…, four days, more nights, vigil, the loneliest word in the room, and finally, whatever might be called lightfall comes among us, connecting us to Dad and to each other, in this terrible privilege.
It is the thing we carry now,
the weight of cold clay.
And here, a stopped clock,
a torn sail, a brass scales,
a box of useless broken measures
that cannot balance
empty chair with hollow gestures.
It is the thing we carry now.
they said I’d sense you,
I called out your name. DAD!
Hush-hush. Liars all.
You’re gone Dad
and that’s it.
I called out your name. DAD!
Silence charged at me.
Where are you?
I want to show you
the barn owl
in ours woods,
wraithlike, a stitched-to-sky bird,
who-too prefers dead
Become an owl, Dad.
have to talk.
Be that nocturnal creature,
white silence in flight.
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