I ring my father's hospital room.
His faraway voice whispers
he's trying hard not to leave us.
("Don't you believe me?
Go ask the doctor.")
I shiver. Sometimes I used to think
he'd never die, his big heart going
bad ten years now. Other times,
I'd worry he'd fail any minute;
fall over dead in my face.
On his defiant days,
downing five shots neat
of bourbon, game for two
reckless sets of singles,
Mother would plead
"talk to your father." He'd grin,
"Sweetheart, a sissy-pants life
is not living."
Now I fear he'll die while
we're on the wire I'll never hear
his wise-guy voice again.
Next day, breathless, I enter his room
in the cardiac ward. Outside in the hall,
a small crowd of murmuring uncles,
cousins, his three younger sisters,
their narrow high heels click the tile
as they solemnly wave. Their eyes say
they've come to say good-bye, comfort us,
hold us in their warm, dry hands.
Nurses rush wordlessly in, out
his heavy, wide door as he labors alone
to keep his word to my terrified mother,
stay alive pale lips tightly pursed,
cheeks slightly puffed as if to hoard the air.
I watch my mother's nervous throat swallow,
shoulders high in a padded silk jacket
brush her earrings. Three of her deep red nails
are torn. It's the shade she wore at my wedding
(or was it my younger brother's bar mitzvah?).
An hour passes. Suddenly, the last warning.
The monitor flattens, tonal hum announces
"He's gone." My mother screams and screams.
Only my father could calm her.
Outside the window, a perfect day
celebrates itself, bright blue sky,
mosaic of falling maple leaves.
There's laughter far across the street.
Two children see-saw, trusting balance.