She’s teaching me to be old:
With every Thank you uttered
To every nurse who draws her blood;
With every reassurance
That everything is good;
With every stifled groan
She can’t remember to repress;
With every single visitor
Who comes with old regrets.
She’s teaching me how the body
Swallows up itself:
How the mind can lose the past
But not civility;
How the shriveled skin
Can still hold tight;
How the smallness of a frame
Can recede and shrink and fade.
She’s teaching me the art of the end,
Of slipping away,
A lesson I’ll only remember
As long as there’s no need.
But I’m studying hard,
Trying to learn the softness of the language,
So maybe something here will help me there someday
When my own body begins to turn away,
When she is gone and someone uninitiated
Tries to set me right—
And I’m retelling stories of this night,
And they know it might have happened,
The way I know she might have loved
Playing basketball when she was twenty-three
(At five foot nothing)—
The only thing she can recall from the eighty years she’s known.
We must not get to pick our memories,
So I know this useful one will go,
And I’ll likely only know the day I sledded in the snow,
Forgetting who was there and where I was but not that I was thirty-three
Or the wind-chapped sting of glee
As gravity pulled me
So hard away from home.