My mother has been gone now for over eight years. But she lived a good long life. She was 94 when she died. I wrote the first two poems when she was in very ill health during her last year. I wrote the last poem after her death. Some mother-daughter relationships are tough. I know mine was. But even now, I few days early, she is on my mind. Rest in peace, Hilda. You deserve it.
I look toward my mother's bed
in its sunny spot by the window.
The young nurse with her
is smiling. They both are.
She lies in bed, the light blue hospital gown
she’s wearing has a tiny geometric print
of triangles, squares and circles in shades
of gray, burgundy and a dark blue.
Her pinkish skin looks healthy,
and her thin, white hair is brushed off her face.
After the nurse leaves, she looks at me
with wide, bright eyes and asks,
“Do you want to play bridge? We need a fourth.”
“I haven’t played in years," I say
and she accepts that excuse,
pointing her long painted nails
to two or three other people
she imagines are in the room with her.
“They will play,” she says.
I stand by her bed stroking her damp forehead,
holding her bony hand still bruised from the needles
that had been stuck into it.
I brush my fingers down her white,
silky legs, now devoid of hair.
“Do I look a mess?” she asks.
The setting sun casts a shadow across her bed.
“No, you look wonderful,” I say.
She smiles up at me, not minding
that her mouth is without her bottom dentures
and brags that her cousins, Virginia and Cal,
always tell her how good she looks
and how well-dressed she is.
Even in this hospital bed
with her gown hiked almost up to her diaper,
she cares how she looks.
I try to pull her gown down
but she keeps grabbing onto it.
I cover her with a sheet,
and sit down to watch her play cards
with her invisible partners.
She uses her night gown as her bridge hand.
“Six spades,” she proclaims
and tells me to play out. I play out.
She continues picking at her gown
trying to lift off each pattern section
one by one as if it were a card
and place it on the imaginary
table in front of her.
I want to know what happened to her,
and what can be done about it.
“Hospitalitis,” the nurse says
like she has seen this kind of behavior
a million times before.
So, with nothing to be done
to fix her, I go back to the bed
and continue play acting with her.
I am thankful too. Her mind is taking her to
that other place where she is young and beautiful
and loved on the west side of Chicago
with her husband and relatives and friends.
I haven’t seen her so happy in years.
“I like this little room,” she tells me.
And I am glad.
She flexed her fists
on the cold bed railing
keeping in time
with the rhythm of her heartbeats.
Soon her hold relaxed,
and with fingers intertwined
she wrapped her hands around the bar.
Drugged from the morphine potion
placed under her tongue,
she lay in a ball like a sleeping skeleton,
her head tucked into her sunken chest.
I sat with her, stroked her arm
like a skinny rail itself
and soothed the damp hair off her forehead
until she pushed me away
and took hold the railing again.
Finally too weak to reach her metal friend,
she allowed her folder fingers
to rest on the bed.
And I, kissing her graying, fading face
said my last I love you and goodbye.
A woman strong until the end
took 94 years to finally let go.
I gathered all the papers that had piled high
on my desk for weeks and put them
into nice neat stacks – Medicare receipts,
bank statements, insurance policy,
tax stuff, paid bills, unpaid bills, funeral records,
and a special pile called Memorabilia –
with her typed up life story in her own words,
her citizenship decree and
her husband’s death certificate.
I shoved the papers into file folders
and put them into the bottom left hand drawer
of my desk. Out of the way, out of sight and
out of mind. This division of papers was the last step.
We had already divided her things.
My brother got the breakfront,
my sister took home the Illadro figurine,
and I have her diamond watch.
Each piece of furniture, each piece of silver, china
and jewelry laid out and chosen one by one
by her three childrenuntil there was nothing left.