RWB Workshop Poem of the Week – Apr 4

Poem of the Week 4/4/2017

Arthur Russell


This is how the blood swept through the village
of my mother’s brain when she woke
at the start of the hemorrhagic stroke
that shoved aside her loves and prejudice
together with her subtle fashion sense,
and every index of the orderliness that she professed.

Feeling hot alarm behind her ear,
she pushed the button on the life-alert lanyard,
and the nurse’s voice came louder than expected
from the nightstand terminal. I wonder
whether my mother tried to joke with her,
as if to shield the nurse from worry,
as she might have done if my sister had called
on a plain Wednesday;
or whether the flood of blood
had announced its bad intention so doubtlessly
that pleasantries she otherwise insisted on
gave way to frank admission of intimate fear.

The terminal nurse would have stayed with her
until the ambulance arrived, encouraged her
to drink some water, put her keys in her purse,
and unlock the front door now in case,
as it did, it got worse.

And worse, as who she was, and where,
blew black across her mind:
the pantry cans and boxes, row on row
that marked her place, her library of linens;
handbag hooks behind the bedroom door;
perfume bottles bottled up and senseless,
utility bills and annuity statements
in colored files in the lower, left-hand drawer
of the desk that faced the Intercoastal Waterway
blew black across her mind;

the boy with the cleft palette who called her Tulip,
the cigarette ashes they tipped in her girlfriend’s shoes,
the green and black tiles in Sylvia’s bathroom;
laughing at a comic in the Catskills with her sister,
and the fake fox fur that her husband banished from his car,
and the bitter refrain of marriage blew black;
the part of her that liked butter cookies and hot black coffee
and crossword puzzles blew black across her mind.

When we arrived that afternoon
like three un-Magi,
children, grown, with failures of our own to tend,
to find her washed up on that hospital bed,
with breathing tubes and a wedding ring,
and monitors creating the illusion of the life
that had already tumbled from her body,

my sister at the bedside held her hand,
IV and all. I took pictures of the names
of drugs written in marker on the velvet bags;
and my little brother, in a folded forward slump,
sat in a chair, further from the curtain, and cried.

And so we attended till the hospice lady came,
and then, we were ourselves again.

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