It was September when you closed your eyes.
The trees were verdant and fat,
Their boughs abuzz with the fluttering of birds;
The warmth of pre-autumnal breezes, pale and whispering:
“Alive, alive,” as the breath in your lungs.
I rarely contemplated your absence
Not for lack of trying, I assure you
It’s just hard to miss something you never really had
Not altogether impossible, but difficult, nonetheless
I could not miss you as my tongue
Could miss the taste of sugar sweet;
As my hand
Could miss the hand of a lover fair;
As my mind
Could miss the dulcet caress of poetry
Poignant and soft;
But I could miss you still, blood of my blood
As your presence should grace my thoughts faintly
Like some spectral invader---
A sometimes patriarch beguiled.
I dreamed of you the day mother informed me
Your eyes had finally opened.
The trees had worn thin by the time of my visitation
I could see them rapping between your blinds,
Scratching the glass in a hallowed colloquial,
The language of arboreal appendages fading:
“Alive, alive,” but just barely.
It was October.
Your days and dreams and dalliances
Compartmentalized into a series of sterile routines:
The steady drip of morphine
Into your veins;
The turning of your body,
At the passing of each half day;
The fluids vacuumed,
From the hole in your throat,
At a quarter till every hour.
Your body became a clock, defected
Feebly measured in the perfunctory gasp
Of your heart’s meticulous monitor
It was just a week shy of November, and you were waning.
Haunted by those seventy-one years,
Long-lived, painfully slow,
Taunting you from the fraying end,
Of an agonizingly short rope---
Seventy-one years, and all it took
For the months to drop, skittering away,
Was the blink of a bloodshot eye.
It was October, but it should have been September.
That ruddy, porous grin,
The bullfrog blues of your grandfather’s smile,
Now made far and few between
By your unabashed lassitude,
By your hesitance to meet the gaze of another,
By your impatience at the sound of voices,
Talking about you like you weren't there.
You were a big guy, I noticed
I never realized how much so until I saw you
Laid up and sprawled unnaturally upon a hospital bed
Little more than an invalid,
Unable to lift a finger, even to catch
The choking, viscous saliva that would dribble,
Infantile and unbidden down your chin;
Unable to speak.
The catatonia fooled you, unbeknownst,
It pried the words from your swollen mouth
With skeletal, sable fingers,
Leaving penitent ghosts in their wake
So that your lips were moving, muttering,
Pressed with the phantom vocalizations
Of what half-formed apologies needled their way into your mind;
Of what no sounds produced
You even tried to tell me you loved me---
Though the affections never quite came to fruition,
I felt your taciturn ruminations, regardless.
I suppose that was a start.
You were near an end.
But it was a start, nevertheless.
Inhabiting the mere space of a windowpane
Inside of yourself as you were,
Your eyes remained outgoing:
At times they contained boredom,
At others longing or contempt,
And within those murky depths, I swear I recognized
The unshakeable, abject face of terror.
So much change for so little provocation:
The leaves outside, they rustled;
Cars continued their coming and going on distant highways;
The soothing azure of the day dampened,
Corroded by the cold, unrelenting hand of a changing season;
Gradually, the sun rose and fell.
It rose and fell:
(Your chest) rose and fell.
(Your face) rose and fell.
(Our hearts) rose and fell.
It always stayed the same.
And in your vacant, unwavering gaze,
Always something different:
The deathly vestige of repentance,
Folded between the window’s shade;
The laughing, lilting silhouette,
Of days forever passing;
And you, unmoving,
In that hospital bed,
A sharp juxtaposition to your caretakers
And their mock celebration:
But those saintly visitations of shadow and climate
Rapping against the window,
Waltzing across the far wall of your antiseptic prison,
They bespoke celebrations of their own,
Callous facts you knew all too well:
“It’s October, Tom. Autumn is here.
And you shouldn’t be.”