When I knelt to face him, he said my name—
not the one he and my mother
had given me, but the long forgotten one
he had called me as a child: Lem, he said,
so matter-of-fact. As if half a century
had not passed since anyone called me that—
no sweltering station wagons of summer, no minnows,
no fishhooks, no father chasing a porcupine
to offer a daughter a swatted towel full of quills.
I wheeled him back to his room like he asked,
although that was not what he meant.
Back through the hallway gauntlet of slack
and spittle, past dociled women in open-backed
shifts left unsnapped for easy hygiene,
past the unmistakable smell of shit.
To his room with its narrow bed like a child’s.
It took two kind aides with arms like oars
to lift him. They were men
on a schedule, so many to tuck in
by dark. Still they paused
for the briefest moment as he settled.
As the sheet floated white and quiet,
they waited like parents do
before they turn off the light.
from Rattle #54, Winter 2016
2016 Rattle Poetry Prize Finalist
[ download audio]
Emily Ransdell: “Sometimes writing a poem feels to me like a way to work through painful memories, other times a way to preserve the sweet ones. This poem began as the former, and thankfully found its way to the latter.”