There are things I can’t seem to hold, things always slipping from me,
like messages for you, lists of errands, pens and chalk, all the broken
dishes and spilled cups of coffee — just this morning a fresh cup,
steaming, spread across the blacktop in Duncan Donuts’ parking lot.
And that time, the last time we drove in silence down to Philly again,
to Children’s Hospital, where they cut and hold babies’ hearts
every day. The doctor I didn’t like met us at the door before we could
even wash our hands or put on those masks and stiff, green gowns.
“Be prepared.” His voice was flat. “He looks bad today. His kidneys are failing.
He’s very bloated.” I tried to leave but he held my arm. “I’m serious. Be prepared.”
My teeth drew blood from somewhere deep inside the dryness of my mouth.
My jaws and armpits clenched. Your hand clamped onto my shoulder.
Inside I stroked our son’s stretched skin and winced for him.
I feared my slightest touch would explode us both all over the hospital floor.
I whispered once into his swollen ear, and we slipped out to sit on that
hard wooden bench in the hall, not speaking, all our words long gone.
We sat ’til there was nothing left to do but drive back home.
You had to work, and our other twin waited for me.
I didn’t know then that mothers often ask to
hold them, even after they’re gone.
He just slipped out of my reach, like everything else does lately,
except for this memory slipped around my neck and holding tight.
Another opportunity missed, like so many chances for us to talk,
since it became clear things would not be turning out the way you planned.
This morning the tiny bar of soap on the shower floor dissolved
and disappeared before I could try to hold its slippery roundness and
finish washing. I stand and shiver, cooling water slides through my hair
and thighs, but I’m not clean. I’m still not even close to being clean.