Until very near the end, it played and played.
Paternity Court, followed by Judge Judy,
in the afternoon — fineh mentshn, you’d say,
tsk-tsking and laughing at the unfaithful
men and small-time grifters, shaking your weak head
at this crazy new world. Nights, there were movies,
or docs on PBS, though you mostly missed
the endings, adrift on morphine and Xanax.
Only when you began in earnest the hard
work of your dying did it start to annoy.
The night nurse who could not stay awake complained
she had to have it on, though it startled you
from sleep, confused and afraid. We let her go.
M. and I kept the volume low in the dim
study, the one room without hospice supplies,
our guilty oasis, except for the desk,
its deepening stacks of paperwork, sticky
notes, and the phone numbers of emergency.
Door cracked to hear you, we’d binge on The Wire,
grateful for the hoppers and murder police,
the ticking row houses and alleys become
a place where we could rest awhile in the pulse
of electric blue light. We’d watch till it lulled
us a little, until we could almost sleep.
mmmiiimiimIt’s the dying must be allowed
mmmmmmTo mourn their own departing.
mmmmmmmmmmmmmm“You Said This”
All day you’d ride morphine’s black waves, not rousing
except once or twice, when you’d cry out, That dog!
There’s your father! until evening, when you’d wake
and ask to eat, to sit up in the lift chair
in the dim light of your living room, the night
nurse exiled to the kitchen, your grandchildren
and me around you. We’d feed you applesauce,
a little mashed sweet potato, and you’d talk,
a fevered monologue, as if you were lit,
your poor brain’s wiring over-fired. Smiling
and laughing, a little wild, you’d go nonstop,
free-associating memories you’d revised
to shape a life pretty as a fairy tale—
your wedding story, the part where he left you
redacted, no three nights alone, no pawned ring.
A fable about your lost, favorite brother,
how as a child in Russia, he’d killed a bear
with a wooden stake he’d carved. Pausing only
to accept a small taste from a spoon, or cough,
you’d go on for an hour or more — I confess
I timed you, afraid, and yes, annoyed, these jags
too familiar, these lovely lies you needed
the played out soundtrack of my childhood — me, blind
to what you were doing, what must be allowed.
m— after Salaam, Bombay!
MRain waters down
the milky, warm tea delivered
Mto the district’s young prostitutes
Mby dark boys
in white cotton. Barefoot,
Mand motherless, they believe
Mat night the beckoning souls
of Bombay’s dead children wander
Mbeneath the stone bridge
Mwhere, days, the living
gamble and smoke. Baba the dealer
Mnewly arrived bumpkin:
there is always a Chillum
Mto smoke brown, to die,
Moverdosed and icy,
trembling like a reed in the wind;
Mthere is always a twice-
still missing his mother,
Mas if it’s understood
Mtheir old names
will be somehow wrong among
Mthese steaming alleys.
crumble above the streets
Mwhere they twist, too hungry
Mto sleep, these tea-boys,
each one so thin, any slight arm
Mcould encircle him, though none does.
Susan Aizenberg is the author of three poetry collections: Quiet City (BkMk Press 2015); Muse (Crab Orchard Poetry Series 2002); and Peru in Take Three: 2/AGNI New Poets Series (Graywolf Press 1997) and co-editor with Erin Belieu of The Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women (Columbia University Press 2001). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals, among them The North American Review, Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Connotation Press, Spillway, The Journal, Midwest Quarterly Review, Hunger Mountain, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and have been reprinted and are forthcoming in several anthologies, including Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier UP) and Wild and Whirling Words: A Poetic Conversation (Etruscan). Her awards include a Crab Orchard Poetry Series Award, the Nebraska Book Award for Poetry and Virginia Commonwealth University’s Levis Prize for Muse, a Distinguished Artist Fellowship from the Nebraska Arts Council, the Mari Sandoz Award from the Nebraska Library Association, and a Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner award. She can be reached through her website, susanaizenberg.com..