Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A Survivor's Tale

By Troy Smith
Sitting at the bedside
Of this frail little woman
Who helped raise me
Holding her gossamer hand
As she struggles for breath
Seeing my mother, her sister,
Harrowed in the corner
“Look what I brought,” I say
“A comic book to read
“While I sit by you
“Like when I was little”
My Aunt Essie
Aunt is too small a word
Essie is too big a force
This Southern matriarch
This Belle of the Ball
Living breathing icon
Drafted by Tennessee Williams
Blanche DuBois and Amanda Wingfield
Given flesh and form
This Appalachian shiksa
Who loved a Jewish man
(A Holocaust refugee)
And loves Jewishness itself
Who calls out the names
Of my mother, and me
“I’m right here,” I say
And stroke her hand
Her dementia erases
The recent past
But at least she knows our names
And at least perhaps forgets
That we have not visited enough
As the night wears on
She calls to a new player:
Her long-dead mother
“Help me, mama,”
She says, plaintive,
Arms outstretched
Snatching her hands at the air
Like a little child
Senile people, like infants
Tear at your heart
When they suffer
For they don’t know why
They only know
That it hurts
And they look to you
With tearful eyes
Wanting you to make it stop
But you can’t make it stop
And in this case,
Life’s end not life’s beginning,
You hope it does stop
You hope it doesn’t stop
You pray it will stop
You dread it will stop
Tonight it subsides
And I read in silence
Ten minutes after I finish my book
The doctor comes
And says it will stop soon
And we should say goodbye.
My eyes were already wet
From my reading-
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
A graphic tale of holocaust
And Jewishness
And guilt and love
And endings
“I love you,” I tell her,
“And will see you soon”
And we clear the room
While the doctors work
Through the hours
Until they tell us
She is not out of the woods
But is stable now, breathing still
And for a moment I believe
She will never die
Though she has claimed to be dying
Almost all my life
She outlasts them all
But I know it is only a reprieve
And that the kindness of strangers
Can be relied upon

For only so long.

March 2016

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