You wanted a rocky shoreline off the coast of Maine
with barbarous waves, a few small fishing boats,
a lighthouse reaching out across the fog
like a tired hand, waving farewell forever.
What you got was a cramped room in a nursing home
which cost a fortune and drained your bank account,
three tasteless meals a day, reruns of Seinfeld,
bingo on Sunday. And you don’t even play.
When I think of you now I see your granddaughter
wheeling you through the East Asian wing
of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, pointing
to paintings of cherry blossoms, inviting comment,
as you stare at the walls, the delicate pink flowers
on their silk beds confounding you. How did we get here?
I wonder – but I know well how you burned
three marriages and plunged headfirst down the stairs
in a gambit for unrequited love. Me,
I’m sick of losing people. My whole life I’ve been
a tree, my leaves peeling off, standing there
in the storm, waiting it out. You’re still alive, of course,
but no telescope on earth is powerful enough
to reach you. Television fills the cracks of your life
the way your children once did, exactly the way
your grandchildren should. But your mind has gone
for a walk someplace – a better place than this.
You don’t even know who the president is
and I envy you that, the involuntary bliss
of your ignorance, spared the daily rituals
of self-immolation the nation endures
in your absence. You still recall the day
half a century ago Kennedy was killed,
while we have Where were you when you got the results
and how many weeks did you cry? You’ll never
know what it did to us, how it peeled us apart, turned us
into a Civil War family, Union vs. Confederate
contending it out until there was nothing left
to fight for but a fifty-thousand dollar
insurance policy with your signature.
We’re heirs to pettiness. I remember you
clipping coupons at the kitchen counter
on Saturdays. That was how you took your mind
off things. Your life amounted to saving cents
even as you lost yours. Bare ruined choirs
sing to you now in your blistering senescence.
Here the narrative breaks
down. All the king’s men
can’t put you back together again.
calls to you from its patient uterus throbbing
with motherly love as we arrange your
to be scattered across the kicking waves.
You’ll never understand that to your last breath
you were my first and every troubled thought.