The Pact

“What happens after death?”
she asked one Sunday,
her long, thin body stretched
weakly across the settee,
her cousin balancing
his dinner plate at her feet.

Sundays they came together,
all the family, for Grandmother’s
dinners; the warm waft of fresh-
baked pies, the clank of dishes,
voices raised over old farm table.

He shrugged; it was always a concern –
she’d been frail from birth, this girl
he loved, two years younger, but
in every way his peer – said nothing.

“Let’s make a pact!” she blurted
“The first to die will leave a sign.”
“Grandpa’s bells!” They shook on it
and then, with a satisfied grin
she succumbed to sleep.

A more sombre clan gathered mid-week
eyes red and faces pale with the shock of loss –
no smells of warmth to greet them,
just cold platters prepared by church ladies

Slumped bodies, heads leaning close,
sipped tea on the place where she’d lain
that last gathering – no sound of children’s
laughter, the hole too hard to bear.

And when the sound came: metal
clanging on metal, ringing a joyous
clamour, she was the first to see –
Grandpa’s bells stirring – her sign!

She knew then he’d be waiting,
told me so before that last breath
and as I watched her go, I swear
I could hear the far off ringing of bells.

(The Pact was originally published September, 2018. Edited here. Image my own)

Distorted Lenses

My memory of you –
distorted by childish exuberance-
distant and disinterested

Translated vacant eyes
through the lens of my needs
child that I was.

Failed to notice
the aura of defeat,
the battered heart

the robotic responses
masking unbelievable sorrow
missed it all

Till death knocked
and I saw you anew –
adult lenses now fully secured.

Wonder at the fortitude
that kept you upright
the love that served us both.

No fault here –
on either side –
just a bittersweet understanding.

(Distorted Lenses first appeared here August, 2019. Image my own)

Prayer Unanswered

Calm, the morning air,
mind lost in reflection,
mirror-still waters

Raise my eyes skyward,
pray for release, an end
to Mother’s suffering.

Nothing. Death
has its own rhythm –
emotions mud.

(I wrote this poem a year ago, when my Mother was in and out of hospital with heart failure and pneumonia. Now, a year later, she continues to struggle. “We live too long,” she says. “Pray for my release.” Photo: Mom at 94, courtesy of my son.)

Shadow Speak

Shadows stalk our conversations,
hovering between lines spoken.

Mother fears death and I,
sidestep darkness…

It’s delusional to believe
we can think ourselves well
or avoid pain by seeking only light

I chew on my words
not wanting to inflict harm –
have done enough of that over the years

Pray for peace to guide her passage
the reassurance of forgiveness
love unconditional

Times like this, language
is sorely lacking, we stumble
build sentences, capture moments

Tell ourselves it will be enough.
It won’t be in the end.
It never is.

(A found poem, borrowed from a previous post, July 2019, on One Woman’s Quest II. Submitted for Eugi’s Weekly prompt: peace. Image my own)

Karma Bites

She looks over my shoulder
that sister, born dying –
whom I mocked, cajoled
and judged so harshly

She breathes down my neck
that sister, I despised
for her sin, and mistakes
how she always abandoned me

She taunts me constantly
ridicules my failing ways
her thoughts poisoned darts
attack me at my core

My eyes are opening,
compassion too late
“Karma bites”, her ghost
hisses as illness seeps in.


(For Reena’s Xploration Challenge: karma bites. Image my own)

Talk To Me of Horses

Talk to me of horses
the young man says
thin locks of blonde matted
on a sweaty brow, flashes of blue
that fade as eyes succumb
to weariness, the constant
whoosh, whoosh of respirator.

Talk to me of horses:
the world is losing its grip
and I care not about
the weather or car mechanics,
but I dream of horses
and I am feeling so emotional –
help me understand.

So, I come daily to his bedside
wait for moments of lucidity
ponder the implications
of his questions, wrestle with
my own inadequacies –
I am merely student here.

We discuss horses –
the power of their bodies
their beauty and grace
their role throughout history –
decide they are ferrymen
transporting souls across worlds –
an explanation that satisfies, then…

I am seeing things, he strains
embarrassed even in these final hours
to describe what seems inconceivable,
between sleep and awake, figures
grey and frightening hover over
my bed like body snatchers….

A chill runs over me, as if icy
fingers have caressed my skin
and I shudder despite myself
scramble to maintain calm
wonder aloud if it is not just fear
projecting grey into light
clouding his vision.

I missed his passing the next day
arriving to find his mother waiting
He left you a message,” her eyes
quizzical, “says that you were right
about the visions; there was nothing to fear”

I smile through the grief –
ever the teacher that one
now dead at twenty-one

“Oh, and one more thing”, she adds “
“Could you talk to me of horses?”

(Talk to Me of Horses first appeared her in April 2018. This version has been edited slightly. Image my own.)

On The Anniversary of His Death

No amount of empathy
could help me understand
the storm inside my father

Even in his death, thoughts
cloud my writing, his presence
preserved in prose…

(Even though it’s been fifteen years, my father’s essence remains strong – sometimes taunting, sometimes inspiring, always mysterious.)

I’ll Sit This One Out

Death invites me to dance
extends crooked hand
for crooked hand
takes the gentlemen’s lead

I know his moves –
have watched a time or two
even partnered a few
long, slow waltzes

But I prefer to tango
like the spice and thrill
of life’s lively step
bid him, politely, to move on.

(For Reena’s Exploration challenge: Antidotes to Fear of Death.  Also linking up to Eugi’s Causerie Weekly prompt: dancing.  Image my own)

Do We Ever Know?

Did she know,
setting the empty bottles
on the stoop,
or later, reading the daily
while sipping first morning tea?

Did she have an inclining
as she dropped a letter in the post,
stopped to chat with an old friend,
then hurried home from the shops
to get out of the rain?

And later,
returning from Judo,
as she gave into sudden malaise
and lay down on the bed,
pausing before tending to dinner,
did she know this was the end?

(I wrote this thinking of my Grandmother on her last day, and of course, contemplating my own demise.  I post it here in light of the anniversary of 9/11.  Do any of us know?  And does it matter?  Death leaves so many unanswered questions in its wake.)

 

All But Comatose

If death is sleep
then surely I am close –
body leaden
refuses to budge,
brain a slow crawl

I would feel something –
remorse, fear, confusion –
but the weight of slumber
has numbed senses,
reaction sludge

only a drum, drum
of heart harkens
life’s continued spark –
What thread of will
keeps me hanging on,
surely sleep preferable?

(Myalgic Encephalomyelitis is characterized by exhaustion after exertion.  The fatigue is systemic. )