Untitled Poem

I spent the day with my dad who is very sick.  This is kind of a free-form, journal-like, day-in-the-life type poem.  Not sure what to call it — suggestions?  Let me know if you have any thoughts on the ending, too.

Untitled (for now)
by Edie Montgomery-Pool

I keep thinking of what I’ll do if I find him dead
Which neighbor should I call
Who’s best in an emergency
That’s the way my mind works now
I unlock the two locks on the security screen
And the deadbolt on the front door
      She would always greet me at the door with joy in her face just to see me
I open the door to his room and peek my head in
“Hi, dad. I’m here,” I say.
It startles him
Then he goes back to sleep

      That used to be my room
      The white walls were painted bright red
      And there was a Van Halen poster on the door

But that was forever ago
When mom was alive
When we weren’t broken

      The night she died
      Birds sang
      A sound so cheerful
      It was jarring
      I wondered how it was possible for the world to go on
      When she wasn’t in it anymore
      That was the night the world stopped
      Or forgot to

He’s hungry
Which surprises me
He’s never hungry
Even when he’s not sick

I make him scrambled eggs and toast
      I make the eggs the way she taught me to
Dad is particular about his eggs
      I wish I would have learned more from her when I had the chance
He won’t use the Carrows gift certificates I bought him
Because the cook doesn’t make the eggs right

I lay out the make-shift paper towel placemat
The way he likes it
Two paper towels, attached
But I forget to give him a third paper towel
For a napkin
This is the house of paper towels
      Mom and dad used to buy them in bulk
      And stack them in the hall
      My sister and I would tell them they were weird

He says he likes the eggs
But only eats half of them
It’s hard for him to breathe and eat
It’s hard for him to breathe at all
Then he takes his dishes into the kitchen
And starts to rinse them
I tell him, “I can do that for you.”
I don’t know why he does that when I’m sitting right here.

There is no dishwasher
I wash the dishes in the sink
And dry them with a towel
There is no cable, satellite, or direct tv in this house
There are 20 public television stations
Which are picked up from an antenna on the roof
Six of them are in Spanish
And one is Korean
There is no internet
The house is quiet except for two clocks
Ticking half a beat off from each other
And the strained sounds of him coughing in the bedroom

He wants me to wake him at noon
And take him to the doctor
He says it’s walk-in
I wonder how long we’ll have to wait
This patient is not a patient man
Even under the best of circumstances

I know he’ll fuss at me for my car being dirty
So I go outside and clean my windows
I throw everything from the back seat
Into my trunk
There’s a lot of crap in my trunk
At least it will look somewhat clean from the inside
Maybe I won’t “get in trouble”

It’s 12:15
I watch Perry Mason re-runs
While he takes a shower
The remote control has a rubber band around it
To keep the batteries from falling out
Sometimes the buttons work when I push them
Sometimes they don’t

After his shower
He breathes like he just ran a marathon
Twenty minutes later
His breathing is just as intense
There is no relief for him
      “Forty-one percent,” my sister said
      That’s the capacity at which his lungs work
      When he’s “well”
I drive him to the doctor
And drop him at the door while I find a parking spot
He doesn’t say anything about how dirty my car is
I’m not sure if the window thing worked
Or if he’s just too sick to notice

In the waiting room
Judge Judy is on TV
I text my sister with updates on dad’s condition
And download new themes for my Pocket PC
And show them to dad
I change my background photo
A fluffy white kitten surrounded by billows of pink yarn
He is unimpressed

I think it’s gross when people blow their nose in public
A large man in the lobby and a small woman behind the reception desk
Are both doing just that
Dad’s name is called; he asks me if I’m coming in with him
I say, “Sure.”

The cushion on the examining table
Is frayed in several places
The stuffing sticks out through a network of cracks
The cabinets are scuffed with quick black lines
A brownish orange streak discolors the wall beneath the soap dispenser
And splats of dark brown something stain the ceiling tiles in random patterns
It’s bordering on ghetto
When I point this out to dad, he just says, “Times are hard.”

The physician’s assistant has the same name as my mom
She asks dad what color his phlegm is
He says, “Sometimes gray, sometimes clear.”
This is far more detail than I would like to know
Everyone seems to want to direct their questions to me
Which bothers me
Just because someone is old
Doesn’t mean they’re an idiot
He’s perfectly capable of answering questions about himself

They give him some pills to take
And send him to the hospital next door
      Where mom used to work
For his second set of chest x-rays this month
He’s tired and I ask him if he wants to do the x-rays tomorrow
But he just wants to get them over with
As we’re walking out, the woman with my mom’s name pulls me aside
And asks if I call him every day
I say I tried to but he got mad at me
I say I’ll start doing it again anyway
This makes me uncomfortable, too
These secret conversations

We go next door
      There’s the gift shop where I stood behind the shelves and couldn’t stop crying
All the ladies at the front know him because of mom
They’re all very nice to him
They ask him their questions directly
      Down there is the chapel where we held a service for her
He has to sign and initial three different forms
In a dozen different places
I wait while he’s x-rayed
      There’s the hallway I used to walk down to see her in the last days of her life
An old man in the lobby
Writes something in a spiral notebook
Pausing a lot and looking thoughtful
I wonder if he is a poet
He’s wearing a beret (I’m not making this up)
I think how funny it is for a poet
To wear a beret
Or anyone for that matter
It is a silly hat
      I should have gone back to the hospital that night she called after I left
      When she was scared, and sad, and alone

Back home
Dad sits in the sun in the backyard drinking 7-Up
I want to sit beside him and eat sunflower seeds
But there’s only one chair
“Go get the folding chair from your mom’s room,” he says
It’s still my mom’s room
Her glasses are still in the drawer where she left them
      There’s the bed where she died
Those are the curtains she picked out

The grass is thick and cushiony
I walk through it barefoot
The miniature orange tree gives off
A sweet, heavy scent
I inhale deeply to take it all in
The fruit hasn’t been picked and is starting to whither

      This is the yard where dad would grow
      Glorious gardens of lettuce and tomatoes
      Where my sister and I pulled carrots from the ground
      And washed them under the faucet on the side of the house
      So we wouldn’t have to stop playing to come in and eat
      That’s the walkway that was covered with a pumpkin patch
      Where my dad planted and tended things and was strong
      Where he toiled under the sun and turned brown
      And never weakened

I sit with him and listen to the birds
I remark how loud they always are here
As opposed to other houses
He takes his pill and goes to bed
Before I can get him to eat something

My sister calls
We are both mildly annoyed with each other
Because neither one of his can be with him tomorrow during the day
I have to work
She has the kids
But perhaps we are more annoyed with God or the world
Or at least I am

I mop his floors
And drive home
In the car, I listen to The Doors
The sun is not quite setting
The light recedes into yesterday
And shadows stretch out across the road behind me and before me

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1 Comment

  1. Wow, Edie, this is beautiful and very intense. I could easily see this broken up into a series of smaller, connected poems. I’m amazed that you can write so eloquently about something you are so close to. I’m keeping you and your dad in my thoughts.

    Sharon


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