“Midwifing My Father” by Shawna Swetech

Shawna Swetech, RN

For Brooks Staton, 1/15/15 – 6/14/05

I sit alone at his convalescent home bedside.
His eyes are unfocused, unblinking. I feel his wrist,
the pulse rapid and thready. His breath is heavy,
sharp, with a death rattle—a sound only recognized
by ones familiar with life’s end. I’ve helped deliver soul
from body many times, but not like this.
I watch the warm life recede from his hands,
tan replaced by dusky mottle. I see his heart
hammer under the sunken sternum.
I see his struggle to stay as he balls his fists,
pummels the air—grimacing and flinching.
Does he imagine it’s WWII, and he’s back in the South Pacific,
on the USS Quincy, when it was torpedoed in the dead
of night? Is he fighting his way topside again, through fire,
over fallen bodies? Or is he fending off the angels,
here to spirit him away?
Holding his hands, I lay across him,
press my weight on his chest.
Dad, I’m here—I’m here, Dad, it’s okay.
I kiss the chisel of his cheekbone, start telling stories
of good times, like watching Sandy Koufax
pitch the World Series at Dodger Stadium.
I remind him of the playhouse he built for me
in the backyard, the one that later became the Monkey House
for Dondy, our gibbon ape. I talk about other pets:
how he taught Omar, the Minah bird, to say “I’m a dirty bird!”
And our old dog, Tippy, how he’d throw himself
at the front door when the mail came.
I know he still hears me, because he nods his head slightly
after each tale.
But then he flails at the air again.
I hold him, start talking about Sunday afternoons
at Knott’s Berry Farm, how he’d give me a dollar to pan for gold.
Grunion hunts at Seal Beach. The time he pushed me along
the bumpy wood planks of the old Rainbow Pier in a grocery cart.
I tell him things weren’t perfect—we made mistakes,
but we did the best we could.
His breath gets irregular and shallow.
I tell him to let go, that Mother is waiting.
I plead for God to come help him. At 1:59 p.m.
he coughs so hard and so deep, he bends forward at the waist.
Every bit of air rushes from his lungs.
His body falls back on the pillow.
He doesn’t breathe in.

from Rattle #28, Winter 2008

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