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?
Love the many details. And going to watch westerns sent me. And the weaving in of the supermarket,Greta storytelling.
Wonderful poem full of compassion and insight.
You’re a great narrator Bill!
This hit home. I sat with my dad as he diminished. Many of the details are the same including the Westerns. Great insight, great details. As always, well done!
What a well-told story! The checkout line is perfect.
This really touched a nerve Bill. These scenes repeat for many – black lung for my dad – but I love the slice of life. It reminds me that while we all share the same grief, we share the same joy of memory, too. Comforting.
Your narratives have such a photographic quality.
I agree with Coleman: I love the smooth way you weave the three stories together, you father, the woman at the supermarket, and us.
This poem is so well done. Love the ending, a reckoning