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Keeping vigil with my sisters and brothers

By Ruth Kent

The old man in the bed has deeply etched ribs
Like the ones on ancient ships raised
Out of centuries on the bottom of the sea.
The old man in the bed has skin
Mottled reds and blues, beautiful on butterfly wings
But not so on human hands and feet.
The old man in the bed has breath that slows
And flares and flickers like the dying embers
Of an evening fire that fails to warm.
The old man in the bed speaks hoarsely, 
Haltingly, struggling to form each word, sometimes
Giving up, mouth clamped in frustration.
The old man in the bed has a gnarled bald head
With growths like alien mushrooms going bad.
The old man in the bed gropes upward for the ceiling,
Reaching for something, someone, only he can see.

 

My father is strong and healthy with unusual vigor.
My father has thick red hair that flames in the sun.
My father travels alone to Europe at 97, drives his car at 98.
My father’s speech comprises perfect words 
And humor -- puns and jokes and silly poems he writes.
My father’s life is filled with love for his Mary 
And their children, their children’s children, and many more.

 

My father has nothing to do with the old man in the bed,
The old man whose Mary is gone many years.
The old man with red still flickering pale in wispy hair.
I sit by the old man in the bed. 
I touch his mottled hand at times when it is still,
Not reaching for a way up and out.
I listen to the rasping breath, 
I watch his chest barely rise, barely fall.
I ask, Is this old man my father?
My heart answers even as it weeps:
We are with you, Dad.
We surround you with our love,
With our gratitude.
Go when you’re ready.