287. Noon, April 15

Riah inhaled.

Louise clenched her fists.
She waited.
Riah exhaled.

Louise pressed her nails
Into her flesh, and forced herself
To count: no reason,
Just for calmness. One.
Two. Three.

Riah inhaled.
Breaths were thin,
Too thin. The lungs were full.

She’s getting worn out:
Louise shook her head.
Riah’s face was stretched
Across the bones,
A crone’s face–
Eyes were merely sockets.
Cheekbones jutted up.
The lips had been erased.
The skin was stiff, as if
Hair bound back tight.

Almost against her will, Louise
Put out her hand to check, to 
Ease the hair: no,
It was loose. She settled it
In waves against
The pillow, put her hand 
To Riah’s forehead,
As a child’s.

How quick, when they leave,
Louise thought:
Even when it takes months,
It comes quick.
Always seems there’s
Something left to tell.
Some word they could leave,
Or we should say…
I love you?
Not enough.
Where they’re going,
We can’t follow.
Dying is the worst.
Not dying is the worst.
To watch and stay.

That woman, years ago, who’d
Been burned raw.
Her kid had knocked the lamp,
The kerosene, it caught
Her skirt.
Without much time left,
Lying on her deathbed,
She’d said only:
“Sit by me.”
All she’d ever said: just
“Sit by me.”

They pull at us,
They pull us toward
That door, we
Want to go! And then
They shove us back.
Don’t mean to.
We don’t mean
To let them leave,
When all we ever wanted–
Just to stay together.
All we want’s the one thing
We can’t have.
Can never be.
A minute together, or
A lifetime.
It don’t matter.
Say goodbye.

Louise withdrew her hands.
She joined them in her lap. And
Sitting there cross-legged, had
These last, wild thoughts: I’ll
Beat her on the back, I’ll
Cut her open, clear it, with
A kitchen knife–might work–
Grab her, run outside
For help–
She’ll snap out of it.


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