My mother rises early—slower, each year.
The marriage of pain and cold bleaches her limbs;
her hands crackle and twist.
She moves like a sluggish engine,
eases stiff arms into the sleeves of a pink housecoat.
Its soft fleece casts a blurry glow on her face,
tendering the lines that have settled in for winter.
She sits at the kitchen table,
her hands cupped around a mug of coffee.
Before the first sip, the metallic clunk
of my grandmother’s walker comes from the hallway,
a bitter catalyst, forcing my mother to the bedroom to dress—quietly,
so as not to disturb Dad.
Her parents are waiting at the table,
hungry for their oatmeal and toast.
Grandma announces that someone should
clean up the shit Grandpa left on the toilet.
He eats laxatives like candy, afraid to keep anything inside him,
for fear it will fester and somehow keep him out of heaven.
My mother cleans it up every morning,
doesn’t stop until everyone and everything in the house is fed, warm and clean.
My father is still sleeping.
His legs have been bothering him more and more,
the extra work of ordering their medicine,
doctors’ appointments, and meaningless errands put
stress on a heart already tired.
After their breakfast, they’ll shuffle and slide into the living room,
stare at the floor for a while, mumble about their latest hallucinations,
before making their way back to their room to watch golf and basketball,
even though grandpa can’t see well and hears worse,
and my grandmother is still somewhere back on Paw’s creek,
living in another time.
Today she’s 22 and picking beans, she tells them.
She talks about her Poppy all the time,
tells us he’s on his way home.
She watches the door like a schoolgirl
before giving up and staring at the floor again.
Grandpa just holds his Bible, his 97-year-old fingers
rough on the delicate pages.
He can’t see the words but he stares at it,
holds it close and then asks my dad for a gun.
He is always afraid.
At night, my mother and father tuck them in,
give them the last round of pills and eye drops,
deliver hot tea and make sure
granny isn’t wearing her clothes to bed again.
She usually does and then sulks when they put a gown on her.
Looking back from the doorway to their bedroom,
mom and dad see them huddled in their bed together,
and quickly turn off the light.
Back down the hall, my mother slips the housecoat back on,
sits with a new cup of coffee and my father at the kitchen table.
It’s dark again, already.