Family Visits

My grandmother sits in her bedroom, by her bed,

near a biography of Elizabeth Taylor – black cover,

Taylor’s name, as I remember, written in cursive,

the color of red lipstick.  She is wearing

the bland clothes my father picks out for her

at Kmart, inside the room, which is bare,

with beige walls, and a white curtain

separating my grandmother’s bed and stand

from her roommates’.

 

There is nothing much to do before my family arrives,

so my grandmother crosses her arms in her lap

and looks out the window.

 

When we arrive, we are buzzed into the home.

My father knows the names of all the nurses –

he visits my grandmother every Sunday,

bringing her clothes, (sneakers, socks, underwear, blouses),

a can of pop (Vernor’s, Sprite), and some candy

(small Halloween-sized Milky Ways, Snickers, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups).

In the summer, my father drives with my grandmother to Dairy Queen,

and they each get a soft-serve and walk around a park,

my father holding her arm; but in the winter it’s obviously harder,

and by now Frieda can hardly walk,

her bones are frail, and she sits in a wheelchair.

 

We walk down the long hallway, under the fluorescent lights,

and into my grandmother’s room.

 

When my grandmother sees us, she smiles, says something like, “Oh, how wonderful!”

and stands up, holds out her arms to embrace us.  Her face breaks

into so many small rivulets of wrinkles, and I think of Auden’s face.

We visit, a few of us sitting on her bed, others standing

or sitting in a chair nearby.  “How have you been, Grandma?”  “Good, good!

How’s school going?”  “Good, we are reading “The Glass Menagerie

now.”  “That’s great!”  She is gracious,

receiving each of us like a Southern matron.

 

When it’s time to go, she receives each of us again,

a kiss for each grandchild, and one each for my parents as well.

And we leave the room – we were always leaving the room –

though my father stays and says a few more words.

And we leave her and my father together, talking quietly.

 

(Years later, when my father calls me on a Friday

to tell me she has passed, the first thing I feel,

before the sadness, is guilt.  Why didn’t I visit her more often? 

And after guilt, winding through the sadness

like cars through rain, is a kind of shock,

as though I were reading a book, and someone came along

and ripped the page I was reading out.)

 

 

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