The truth is shameful: I couldn’t bear your naked body,
the one that made you cry like an abusive ward
forces a child to cry–as if for pleasure.
In the moment I didn’t know my reasons why,
only my discomfort. I had no sympathy
or gentle croon that hadn’t known the backlash
of your anger the way scent links intuitively
to taste. I was afraid of what I would awaken,
what horrified part of you might have tried to articulate
humiliation through the muddied pathways of your brain;
I didn’t want to see your eyes light with suspicion
again that way. And before I found this realization
I still discounted the people who told me that this
is a routine issue between an ill parent and
her child. Avoidance was mostly for me. I lifted your weight
despite my back, and later, it didn’t even hurt,
but I couldn’t wipe you after the bathroom or soap over
the scar on your chest. At the same time I knew you would say,
“Don’t let me go to the grave dirty.” So after you died,
while my stepfather turned away and wailed, I took
a damp rag and wiped your face, special attention
paid to the corners of your mouth, where the medication I’d fed you
in your morphine sleep had escaped as I’d watched your closed lids
for any sign that you might come to and berate me.
However much beer that mouth drank, however many
times it humorously cussed, or said “I love you,”
however many times it kissed a pet or chided
a husband, it had closed and was now being touched
for the final time by me. For all I knew
you felt it still, just as you heard me telling you
it was okay to take your last breath and you
agreed. By this point the cat had disappeared
and would not be seen for days. Just weeks before,
when I had visited, she’d yowled in the living room
at night like a proponent of old wives’ tales until
I came downstairs to stare, and she gazed back
so matter-of-factly that I knew a number of things.
Bad news: after you left, your husband
let the cat go at a farm; that classic line.
Rest assured I have no doubt he was being literal.
She just wanted to be free, he said.