The battle went flat like a candle pinched.
One moment you were pale soap
resting on a double bed,
dwindling as our tears raged on.
I’d read to you from hardbound books
as if thin scrolls of verse you loved
could break the silence
rubbing against my quiet screams.
A hospice nurse shut down the drip.
I made her check your pulse
at least a hundred useless times
between my racking sobs.

We’d clean and paint the haunted house
as if a broom or brush
could mitigate this hurt.
My sister and I drew straws.
The short one got your bathroom drawers;
the long one got your greenhouse
full of gangly roots,
scents of old geraniums
smothering the faintest smell
of Nina Ricci clinging to the caving walls.

We passed the trinkets of your life
back and forth across the room.
Bubble-wrapped your china dolls
to open when our strength returned.
Balls of cat hair raced my arms
like moths react to woolen sleeves
we rearrange as seasons fold.
Your shoes became two empty rows
of bobbing boats beside a pier
that’s slipped into a stormy sea.
Whatever we grabbed
scalded our tender hands.

*First Published in Retort Magazine

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