A Child Again

Tethered to that bed.

Burdened by dying.

Age-hardened veins silting. Staining

Capillary bed and blackening skin from toe-tip,

up through shin and thigh and hip.

Diluted only by the saline drip, drip, drip,

ticking in time to the ward clock

and the oxygen feed.

Face tight muzzled by the mask.

Flesh swollen, hard-bitten, by thick black straps.

There is now the need for acts of caring.

A glycerine swab for parched lips and cracked, swollen tongue.

My husband removes his father’s mask. Gently.

Stroking. Kissing strap indents across a misshapen face

And death comes now in chain-stoking pauses

fracturing our living.

Is there a protocol for this?

What must be done? Should be done?

I fuss with washing, brought fresh with us, in the rush from home to hospital.

Here are the pyjamas, bought in the daylight when he was alive and with intent.

Here are the unguents he enjoyed.

But with which we now anoint.

The doors twitch and open and nurses come with empty hands.

With professional pity and platitudinous glance.

There is the coughing of old men, whose time is not yet,

from beyond the island we have made for ourselves in this glassed-off periphery.

We are not of any world I know. This twilight before dawn,

when the breath grows harder to draw and life ebbs low.

This is the time for last words.

I love you. Please don’t die. Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me.

A tired young doctor certifies death.

And we stumble dark-eyed through doors.

My husband turns to me and says, plaintive in a child’s voice

I am an orphan now.

And weeps.

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