Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Six Books, Stacked.

Used to be, I’d come home
your oxygen cord leading the trail
to where I’d find you,
curled up with a book,
dog at your feet or on your lap.

You’d greet me,
a familiar, “Al?”
coming from the other room.
I’d follow the trail
and there you’d be,
pulling the reading glasses off
& readjusting the cord in your nose.

Used to be, I was your daughter.
You knew me.

It was almost time.
But you’d never admit it,
stubborn woman.
Instead, you tried to read
every book at once.
I felt it, though you tried
to hide it:

a panic, a fear—
what if you couldn’t read them first?

Six books, stacked, all with bookmarks.

The last day I saw you,
really saw you,
talked to you in your hospital room
here in Chicago,

I gave you one last gift.
Two books, one a silly romance,
one I was reading for class.
And you smiled at me and said,
“I can’t wait to read them.”

But you never got to read those books.
Six books, stacked, all with bookmarks,
next to your empty chair.
My books, our books, were there.
So was Les Miserables
and others,
but I can’t remember the others,
and it kills me.

What if there weren’t actually six books even in the pile?

Some years later,
after your stack of books was gone,
by the time I no longer
looked for that oxygen cord
each time I walked in the door,
I picked up one of the books I gave you.
Opened it, and read
my inscription to my mother.

With a jolt, I saw
the handwriting of
my teenage self.
I barely even knew it.

It was the saddest feeling.
as sad as seeing your bookmark
still in place
as sad as every time I tried
to read Les Mis
and couldn’t,
as sad as accepting
I’d never see you again.

Today I wondered
if you would still know me:

I am no longer a teenager.
Nothing is the same.
Not even my handwriting.

But then,
curled up on the couch
with my New Yorker,
and a stack of books
(because I can never read
just one at a time),
a cat by my side,

I realized
You’ve been here all along.

No comments:

Post a Comment