Purple-knuckled I drive from Munjoy Hill to Harlem, from
Maine to New York, my apartment to my grandmother’s,
my worries drifting with the falling snow, pulsing on and off
like brake light traffic on I-84. Has Mary done all her laundry?
Remembered to get milk? Does the new coffee maker really turn off
automatically? Is she watching the news on repeat? Shootings and
sensationalized death? I take the elevator up 21 floors, hear her
cat’s nails skip against tile as I turn the key. “Ach du liebe,
my granddaughter finally decided to come.” It’s the same each
month, our strange, synchronized relationship, her 94-year-old
heart steadied with a pace maker, my watch wound with anxieties
routined to ticking calm. Soon she will ask me to water the plants.
I retreat to the bathroom, take Benadryl and empty the litter box,
pour each of us a glass of water only I will drink. We ramble through
hours together, my voice hoarse, her ears muffled rivers. We play
Scrabble. I keep score on the same yellow legal pad we’ve used for
decades, put the date atop a fresh page. She wins. She talks to her cat
before she goes to bed, counts her worries, reports back to me
in the morning. I sleep soundly, wake with a start, walk the four paces
to her open door room. There she is in her blue & white muumuu.
There, on the nightstand are her glasses, her teeth, her hearing aids.
There is her cat, waiting. There, the window, half-shaded, the bricked
buildings, squares of Hudson, the scrape of the 1 stopping on 125th.
Here is the sound of her breath. Here. A child of war, an orphaned
immigrant, German-tongued, strong-willed, broken-hipped, double-
mastectomied, cataract-eyed, six and a half decades wiser than I,
survivor, lover of Jeopardy, Ella and shrimp saag. Here she is sleeping,
waiting for today’s paper, a woman president, a cup of coffee to start
the morning. Here, she will tell me to feed the cat, get the mail. Here,
she will ask me about my students, my plans. Here, she will say “Ach,
you are going to Europe when it took everything for me to leave.” She
will say, “Ach, my traveling granddaughter you’re getting real good
at going.” I will say, “But you know I always come back” and she will
pretend not to hear, wave her hand dismissively in three movements,
a familiar gesture I elect to interpret as I love you, I’ll miss you, I want
you to stay. The 1 train sparks again, 116th-bound. I grab the paper
from the hallway, place it on the kitchen table next to her pills, write
her a note that says “Gone for a walk. The coffee is on. Be back by 10,”
hoping she knows that this note, this poem, all I always ever say is
I love you, I’ll miss you, I want you to stay here.