THE MARRIAGE BED
The Red Maple
low sweeping branches thick with purple leaves
make a cave for the children
who run in and out
escaping with mock terror
the pursuing laughing boys
in the deep shade the grass is sparse
the dark shadows invite me too
as if there is a refuge there
a place from which to look out
and see the ocean and the sun
and not get burned
Together and Apart
Our feet entwine – cold toes seek warmth,
bodies touching at knees, hips, shoulders,
his calloused hand tenderly cups my breast,
the mythic shape, treasures the familiar prize.
My hand caresses the silkiness of inner thigh,
his skin that all those years have not made rough,
fingers slide across his old scarred
stomach, witness to those repairs, removals.
We sleep and turn and turn, always in touch,
his snores and nightmares bring a drowsy nudge
to send him spinning into deeper sleep.
My thoughts twist with my turning, skitter toward
and away from tomorrows, presence, absence.
I settle closely, wrapping him in my embrace.
He is uneasy.
He has been told there will be music.
But when? Where?
Is it time to go now?
Reassurance doesnÕt reach him.
He will forget the question in a moment.
The friend arrives, tunes up her violin.
He is awake, even with his eyes shut
it is clear he is listening.
At each pause he applauds,
says ÒThat was great.Ó
The music stops, his head sinks,
eyes closed, he drifts away.
The past exists.
has become timeless.
my fingers trace the shoulder wing
follow the string of buttons
down the spine
to hip and thigh
the loose skin shifts beneath my hand
the hot bag holds
the skeltal bits
ribs and hips poke
at their fevered cover
I skitter closer and retreat
imagining the bones
and no dear flesh
We walk in the glory of the fall leaves.
I brush away the acorns strewn everywhere
to make the path smooth for him.
Slowly, painfully, he gets to his feet
and begins to move.
It is no help to remind him Òone foot, then the other,Ó
how the body can step, balancing from side to side.
The words disappear into the maze of his mind.
But his muscles try to remember the pattern.
His thighs tense and tremble.
He tires and stops,
bound again to his wheelchair.
We sit in our circle of woods,
the beech tree gleaming in the autumn sun.
Beside a Sick Husband
fills the silent room
poised beside him
fight or flight
bring rescue from
stop and start
Though he no longer knows me
I tell him I love him.
The words fall into an empty space
where there is no longer speech.
He cries out at night. I take his hand;
we fall asleep.
When I wake him with a kiss on his forehead
and a kiss on his lips, sometimes he smiles.
Is this not love?
He sits in the sunny window.
Beyond the glass the birds
flutter at the bird bath, but he doesnÕt notice.
My chest is weighed down with loss.
Is this not love?
We no longer try to walk him up and down
Because he falters and tires.
I am willing to let him go.
But for now I hold him safe and quiet.
Is this not love?
Fixing the Past
A brisk walk in the morning delighted him.
He asked me to come,
but it was hot and I was tired.
He walked without me.
The Ring cycle fascinated him,
But I had other music to learn,
a book I was reading.
He listened alone.
He sat by the water drinking his wine,
late afternoons at the magic hour,
watching the dying sun flare on the white hulls.
But I was busy with supper and didnÕt join him.
I go down to the dock without wine
and watch the light fade
and think of him
in his wheelchair in the living room
vacantly facing the sea
The Tended Garden
the great clump, brilliant yellow,
of daylilies opened wide to the sun
and the blue tall lupine spears
that punctuate the golden explosion
mark the end of the lawn
of the carefully tended land
beyond it the wild roses cover the bank
rebellious and disorderly
tumbling down to the rocks
to the lines of seaweed
and the ocean coming and going
The Haydn quartet came at me like an enveloping cloud
full of memory, all so familiar, all evoking the years past.
The strings resonated in my chest, not in my ears which
usually thrum to tell me how good it is.
No judgement was possible tonight. I was possessed.
And with the music came his voice,
commenting on the playing, ÒHey, thatÕs one terrific fiddler –
lovely viola sound, thereÕs my favorite part.Ó
This music played in our living room
a hundred times in all those many years.
They played, laughed, broke down at a hard spot,
started over with passion.
Maybe the vibrations in my chest went home to him,
lying in bed, silent and quiet. Maybe they sang to him,
bringing back his nature,
the spark that was his soul .
the rain has been steady for days
it flattens the ripples of the ocean
the lobster boats sit motionless
lined up obediently
the navigation buoys stand out sharply
against the slick surface
across the bay the gray water
merges with mist and colorless sky
the blank house windows stare
along the cove shore
No tears when he fell,
breaking his hip, lying in pain.
No tears when he woke up,
without speech, without understanding speech.
No tears when the dementia stayed,
though they said it was temporary.
But today my husband asked
"Who are you?"
Pushing my face into the pillow
We sit in the warm afternoon sun.
The sand bar gleams.
The rocks show their teeth
almost to the green buoy.
Seagulls flash through the air,
the boats that slowly
turn in the tide.
In love with the wind,
he knew ledges,
where to find gooseberries,
where the herons nested.
mouth open, eyes sunken,
on his last voyage,
Show and Tell
I bring in flowers every morning
lay out the deliciously hued day lily blossoms
on a clear glass platter
stand the pale blue Japanese iris
in an elegant narrow crystal holder
make a loose grouping of rosa rugosa, ajuga, ferns
in a bowl they had chosen in Greece
ÒArenÕt they lovely?Ó
Of course, he doesnÕt answer
or see the flowers
and there is no path to the memory
of when he selected them
and delighted in them in his garden
a death mask
skin taut over cheekbones and chin
warm to the touch
I lay my hand on his heart
it drums against my flesh
Is this how it will end?
No great letting go
My waking to the still
Chilled body beside me?
Pulls me this way and that
And I am to forget it
And enjoy the light while it lasts.
Mostly I do except
When the children are unkind to each other
Not seeing their brief time together
Not seeking shelter from the harm outside
When I walk in the garden and see his plants
And think of how he loved to see them flourish
And how he walked in the evening among the flowers
When everything shifts
And he no longer exists quietly,
Looking the same each day
But has entered that great slide away from us
Sliding a little farther each day
More skeletal, more remote, closer to the darkness.
After This Life
He would have liked to live
To be one hundred but not like this,
This not-living, not-dying.
Paintings of deep religious feeling
Reached his core the way art can
But never tempted him
His rational mind saw nothing waiting
On the other side of the barrier
He will shortly cross
And he was ok with that
Though he remained so curious
As to how the future would work out
For him it all stops here
Nothing over this line
Except in memory
Unwinding the tightly coiled spring
That I didnÕt know was there.
There is no center to circle round,
To tend, to worry over.
How strange to be unmoored..
Last night I slept unbroken hours.
I woke to no commitments—
Not thinking "up in time for—"
Whatever it might be,
Changing through the years.
The sun on seeps into my muscles—
Unfamiliar sense of letting go.
It doesnÕt matter now—take your time.
No one needs anything.
I have washed up on shore.
I think he is in the boat, coiling lines,
Sitting in sun—pondering string theory,
Or something else IÕve never understood.
ÒIf I wanted you to understand, I
I would have married a physicist,Ó
He said when I was young and puzzled..
He isnÕt really gone after all—
HeÕs just working in the garden,
Planning where to build a new deck.
Just because he isnÕt in sight
Has never meant heÕs not
Coming in to supper.
IÕll wait a while before setting the table.