She pushes the oxygen tank in her shopping cart,
line clipped to her nose, tether helping her stay upright
on slow shuffling feet. I assume, perhaps wrongly,
that she was a smoker, a half-full ashtray on her make-up table,
tobacco flakes in the creases of her purse.
She has that same gray pallor my father had his last year,
something to do with capillaries starved for air.
It all comes back to me, the coil of hose beside the recliner,
the steady tick from the oxygen compressor after each inhale,
that sad, sheepish look that says I brought this on myself.
Toward the end, I’d come over when I could
and we’d watch old westerns on cable,
the stories he grew up with, the good guys in white ten gallon hats,
always a shootout at the end, always the symbol of evil
lying crumpled in the dust. Mostly he’d doze,
the clicking of that valve allaying my fear when he was too quiet.
I let her go ahead of me — she just has a few perishables: eggs, milk, and cheese.
On his last morning, before he drifted off for good,
I asked my dad how we was feeling. He said, his words leaking
through gasps, eyes wide and frightened,
I’m doing the best I can, and really isn’t that all any of us can say,
about anything, as we wait our turn in checkout
battling for one more breath?