She sits beside me, quieter than before, rocking steadily in her chair
Her right index finger slowly moving across her chin, as if to confirm her reality.
Her once bright eyes, clouded by the ravages of time, look outward
Her mind looks inward, untethered and tempest tossed
Trying to untangle the threads of memories from fabulations
That play out unbidden in the theater of her mind.
It ought to be as easy as untangling the skeins of yarn in her knitting bag.
The two of us have done this before, working together.
I soon realize that these snarls cannot be untangled,
Cannot be knitted into new shawls of memory she can warm herself with.
Her angelic voice, still pure and true, soars to find the high notes
This gift of hers has not eroded as her body and mind have.
She knows her birthday but not her children.
She knows her social security number and rattles it off without hesitation
But her grandchildren's names elude her, though she is happy to see them
When she does remember them, it is of frozen images of eight, ten, twelve years ago.
Though sitting beside me in the living room, she is not here.
She wanders through time and space, confused and frustrated.
Waking in the night, she calls my father's name, panicked that he is not beside her
Stolen from her after sixty-two years.
Sometimes she calls for her mother, gone from us long ago.
I awaken when I hear her, tell her she's with me and not to be afraid
“Where's Ed?” she asks. “Business trip,” I say.
This calms her and she returns to sleep.
I stay awake and listen until her breathing deepens.
I know that I am her security and struggle against the immense responsibility
That rests on my shoulders
I do not immediately fall back asleep,
My mind remembers that which she cannot: things past, those loved, those lost.
I glance at the clock, eyes blurry, then burrow under my quilt.
I miss my Dad.
I ask the spirits of the night for patience and understanding, to quell my fears
I toss as I try to submerge myself in the warmth of my abandoned dream
To no avail. I am awake and annoyed.
As night gives way to day, she calls to me and waits like an obedient child.
She is cheerful when she greets me. I am not.
I hate myself for my sour mood but I choose her clothes and dress her
I bring her to the kitchen and make her breakfast, hoping coffee will improve my mood.
On days like this, when I am impatient, I wonder how I can be so unkind.
She is so fragile and lonely.
I feel them watching me, her parents and my Dad.
I sometimes imagine them shaking their heads, looking at her and me with deep sadness.
On those days, I cry.
On other days, I make her laugh and feel loved.
I try to make it up to her, grateful she does not remember my harsh words
Sad she will not remember my kindnesses.
She thanks me for even the smallest things, so unlike the mother I knew
She cries from time to time, missing the only man she has ever loved.
I tell her I miss him, too. I try to calm her and ease her pain but I am hurting, too
I don't want to be the strong one when my own grief is so raw.
For her sake I hold my sorrow on a tight leash.
Over and over, I reassure her of the same things, my new catechism:
There was nothing you could have done to save him and he is at peace
He will always be with us
His love for her was steadfast and will sustain her.
I will take care of her from now on.
She is comforted even as we weep together.
She is grateful and says she doesn't know what she would do without me.
My guilt threatens to choke me and I know I don't deserve her praise
But we will play this scene again, over and over again
As we have since his death,
Through the many days and long lonely nights
Until he comes again to take her home.
Kathleen Chamberlin is a retired educator living in Albany, New York with her husband and two rescue dogs. Her poems have appeared in Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Open Door Magazine, The World of Myth magazine and the anthologies the book of black and Breath of Love.