Painted arrows far below the tenth floor
Point right across the bridges.
Outside Mother’s hospital window
A blizzard blots the soccer fields.
The river’s dark gash curves up and away.
Double yellow lines and train rails
Gird the waters, crossing past, present,
And future. Snow bees swarm,
Losing gravity in furious gusts.
Mother coughs, says, “I am dying, I think.”
Her pain drums my spine and gut, as
Coal cars chug then stop, heavy with snow.
A yellow kayak hovers on the grey drizzled river,
Beneath a swirling blizzard, flakes the size of swallows,
Gliding slickly meeting elements.
Black paddles dip, balancing back, forth, east and west,
As a man in wetsuit traverses
Long shelves of submerged geo-time paper-clipped with rocks.
A great blue heron opens one giant flap of wings,
Embracing low sky,
Then dips toward shaggy edges where debris
Hinges in every jag and scissor tooth of land,
Blocking easy attempts at flow.
The white sheet edges higher on the body of the world
As I wait for Mother to stay or go
To surgery, and nurses, aids, and doctors cannot help
But search through windows checking dangerous roads home.
It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night. Luke 12:38
With no adornment allowed
In surgery, I’m wearing two watches.
The first watch is Mother’s on a plain leather band.
It ties my wrist to another century.
The second watch, a gold and silver Seiko
With navy face, returned to me
From a lover, a pale copy
Of the Rolex finally achieved. I wait
For the surgeon’s call, alone, in a vast room
Offering inane magazines and vending machines.
It’s Sunday night
With snow freezing every road.
“What is your birth date?”
September 25, 1918, Mother rasped,
Looking to me to answer the rest of the pre-op
Test when the nurse asked, “And why are you here?”
Cathryn Hankla is the author of eleven books of poetry and fiction, including Last Exposures: a sequence of poems and Fortune Teller Miracle Fish: stories. She won the James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry from Shenandoah magazine in 2009, serves as poetry editor for The Hollins Critic, and currently holds the Susan Gager Jackson Professorship in Creative Writing at Hollins University.