Cigarettes, Candy, and Stationery

I was always away
and you were always coming to see me.
Once a week I'd look down
into the parking lot
and watch cars fill up the spaces
until your car came
and filled up a space.

Your shadow walked you to the entrance
in sunlight bright as razors
glinting off a mirror.
You brought cigarettes, candy, and stationery
so I could thank all those
who sent cards.
I had no answer for them
as I stood in front of you
in my cotton smock and bedroom slippers.

I showed you my room with two sagging beds
and a metal locker; said this roommate
was better she didn't threaten me
or flush my makeup down the toilet.
I was scared all the time
that you'd never make it
on a Saturday
and I'd have to wait another seven days
with strangers
each speaking a different language.

I was afraid I'd become one
of those walking the halls for Jesus
in drab clothes and a torn frown,
who'd glance up at the clock on a Saturday
then down into the parking lot
out of habit.

Cross Stitch

Those were the days I was busy
with needle and thread.
I stitched the little valleys
to the seas:
six strands of emerald green,
six strands of turquoise;

French knotted the waves with pearly white
and watched you ride your own waves
with holes in your arms.
Everything I loved leaked out
when you stuck those needles in.

I remember our last room together:
the fake oriental rug, the pitcher of water.
You admired the neon view,
lights the color of flamingoes,
the city noisy and laughing - you saw it as a party
you hadn't been invited to.

I lay on the bed stroking my shining hair
and listened to you complain.
When my needlework was finished
I put it in a frame
and found my own wall to hang it on.
When I left you were still dreaming--
hanging by the belt around your arm.

The Last Act

A collapsed marionette
you lay against the blue-white sheets
as if it took all your breath
to do so.

I tug the privacy curtain closed
on its steel track though
what we need to keep from
the patient in the next bed dying,
I don't know.

Mother, what you have left--
roses and a water glass--
could there be less?
I stoop and sniff for both
of us.

You don't ask for Christ and I
don't call Him up. Later,
there'll be time for that.
I run my fingers over the brown
and lavender smudges
on your arm, follow their trail
to your surrendered hand.
I love you I say and your hand
hears me, or pretends.