I'm at her bedside for my mother's last
words. Come closer, Son, she whispers. I lean
in, but not so far as to fall. Yes, ma'am,
I say, though I'm not quite sure if I'll come back
from whatever hole she's slipping through. And
where does it begin and where does it end?
Well, I can answer the second question
though I've disguised it as part of the first,
but I can't fool death and I can't fool her.
Say that death's a tunnel vertical, much
like a well: you come into life ready
or not to break the water and enter.
And each inch or foot or yard or fathom
is another day, week, month, and year. But
at what point does one leave life and approach
death? She's 82 and still – let me check
– alive, but closer to the end for all
that her age is part of a beginning.
The last part, perhaps. I'm listening hard
but I hear nothing, just some syllables
of breathing, words formed from aspiration.
Or is she resigned? So I pull away,
trying to see what I can't hear clearly.
Her eyes shut. Her lips are parted. Wake
up, Mother, I say, as if in command.
Mother, wake up. She does. I've raised her from
the late-in-life, the almost-gone – her eyes
blink open, look to the ceiling, then roll
like a doll's-eyes to me. You were saying,
I say. You were going to tell me something.
She smiles. Oh, that's right, she says – and then falls
asleep again. Dammit, I think. Jesus.
C'mon, Mother, I say. Wake up. Wake up.
If these will be her last words, however,
perhaps it's best that she not wake at all.
Yes – if I let her sleep she cannot die.
Hmm. Unless, of course, she dies in her sleep.
Christ. Wake up, Mom. I nudge her shoulder. Wake
up. She does. This time she doesn't see me.
I want to say, she says, that I'm mighty
proud of you. You write good poetry and
you're a good teacher, even if you're broke.
I'm leaving what I can for you – not much,
I know. A few thousand. Buy something nice.
When she's dead I find she's left something
less. I mean, she's gone and that's not enough.
But something more: what was, the was I had,
it's back again, not that it ever left
but that it never was, like it's not now.
I mean, I'm resurrected, in a way.
Not that I was dead but that she's had me.
Gale Acuff has had poetry published in Ascent, Reed, Poet Lore, Chiron Review, Cardiff Review, Poem, Adirondack Review, Florida Review, Slant, Nebo, Arkansas Review, South Dakota Review, Roanoke Review, and many other journals in eleven countries. He is the author of three books of poetry: Buffalo Nickel, The Weight of the World, and The Story of My Lives.