Because in her delirium, she raked my beard
with her nails and called me aba, I know
my mother travelled backwards into her death.
Because I leaned over her on the hospital bed
and had the presence of mind not to fear,
at least not then, being near her, I felt
the restlessness of her back-and-forth turning,
as of a body working itself into a narrow
channel or a groove, to rest, that cannot rest.
What she saw, where she was then, I can’t
know—not from the bedrail where I stood
as if they were rails of a stadium, and I, high up,
watched her on a field below. Probably
she was in the Palestine of her childhood,
a location I will not try to imagine here.
She was twice removed from me, not simply
inside herself, but inside in a place before
I could have known her, where her needs,
her concerns had nothing to do with me,
and another middle-aged man with a beard
had leaned over her, leaned in to lift her
as from a crib, before he went off to war.
She’d said a few times that I resemble him
with my thick lips and straight hairline,
the features passed through her. So I go ahead.
I forget all I think I know about time and
become the man who leaned over her once
returned to lean over her again, glad that,
in her delirium, she recognizes me, her father-
son, light brown beard, thick lips, straight
hairline, the creases around eyes and mouth
that are common to joy and grief.
BENJAMIN S. GROSSBERG is director of creative writing at the University of Hartford. His books include Space Traveler (2014) and Sweet Core Orchard (2009), both from the University of Tampa Press. His new collection, My Husband Would, will be published by the University of Tampa Press this fall.
image: Edwin Austin Abbey, Cordelia’s Farewell (detail), 1898