“Conspiracy” by Sophia Rivkin

Sophia Rivkin


The husband calls from two hundred miles away
to say he cannot stand it, his wife is dying
in a rented hospital bed in their living room
and he must put her away, somewhere, anywhere,
in a nursing home and she is crying looking up at him
through the bars like a caged animal—
she is an animal with foul green breath
and buttocks burnt raw with urine—
he cannot lift her, he cannot change her often enough,
and she is crying for the children’s pictures on the mantle,
she cannot leave the silver candlesticks,
the high school graduation pictures.
And I say, yes, it is time to put her away,
I am the friend and I say it,
the living conspiring with the living,
death standing like a Nazi general or a stormtrooper
with a huge cardboard chest covered with metals,
and he leans over her and pins a gold star
through her skin and it pricks us,
pricks us through the brain,
through our skin
but we do not bleed
when death is pushing her
out of her bed, marching her away,
while everyone stands white-faced
among the white-faced crowd,
blending in, blending in.

from Rattle #26, Winter 2006
2006 Rattle Poetry Prize Winner


Sophia Rivkin: “As I grow older I think more and more on mortality, my friends, my own. I think of poetry as a way to save my life, to shape, dress/address what is dredged up from that basket of old laundry—memory. Something to wash, starch, hang up, like a white lace dress to sunlight. But this poem is full of the muddle of being human, guilt and loyalty for both the living and the dead.”

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