The lump rises innocuous from pale flesh just below
your collarbone. A gentle swell, almond shaped, firm
but not hard. You insist I touch it, want me to feel proof
that it’s real. I can’t refuse, you ask for so little.
I search for words, find none and cannot remember those
that used to be there. It doesn’t matter, quiet is soothing and
somehow, enough. Robins sing and we can see your humming
birds flicker at the feeder, this foggy July morning.
Next, you lead me up carpeted stairs, fling louvered doors,
and start sorting through orderly closets, without hesitation,
as though you’ve done this many times before. We even laugh
as you remember the soft pink dress that was almost too pretty
to wear. I hold out my arms, you pile garments in jewel colours
for the clothing donation bin in the mall parking lot.
Later I make tea, yours like dishwater, and mine strong and
so bitter I can barely swallow it. You sink into your favorite chair,
a faded Magic Bag pressed to the small of your back, wheeze,
“A good job done,” and I agree as I pass the dainty mug patterned
with fruit that matches your kitchen wallpaper. I try but fail
to filter the sound in my head. It is the beginning of your breathlessness,
the sound that leads to the swish and gurgle of bedside pumps,
IV poles and oxygen masks, morning visits with Sobeys bags full of clean
underthings and familiar whimsies from your bedside table. I try harder,
ignore the images: “Thinking of You” cards, helium balloons, and
all those bouquets of roses, their silky petals, red as blood,
drifting to the sill.
On the day of your leaving I studied
the tangled spruce in the yard, all
leeched marrow and trails of glistening,
dark as blood. Withered fists unfurled,
dropped aborted cones into an obscene graffiti
of closed eyes on the ground while I played
the unwilling voyeur, watching blind
fetuses expel from a womb weary of holding on.
I am not this way!
I wanted to shout the words but
my voice had become a smoky sky:
nothing good could come of it.
How can it all funnel down to this? Spirals
on a tree trunk, whorls on a thumb pad,
cartography of an infant’s palm and
the knowing: ingrained and awful.
We can never go back; not really.
I searched in vain for a supple, lively flicker
in leaves, hoping to discern the persistent warble
of a brave, unwavering song.