The Gift

by
June 2021, no. 432

The Gift

by
June 2021, no. 432

In the garden, my father sits in his wheelchair
garlanded by summer hibiscus
like a saint in a seventeenth-century cartouche.
A flowering wreath buzzes around his head –
passionate red. He holds the gift of death
in his lap: small, oblong, wrapped in black.
He has been waiting seventeen years to open it
and is impatient. When I ask how he is
my father cries. His crying comes as a visitation,
the body squeezing tears from his ducts tenderly
as a nurse measuring drops of calamine
from an amber bottle, as a teen at the car wash
wringing a chamois of suds. It is a kind of miracle
to see my father weeping this freely, weeping
for what is owed him. How are you? I ask again
because his answer depends on an instant’s microclimate,
his moods bloom and retreat like an anemone
as the cold currents whirl around him –
crying one minute, sedate the next.
But today my father is disconsolate.
I’m having a bad day, he says, and tries again.
I’m having a bad year. I’m having a bad decade.
I hate myself for noticing his poetry – the triplet
that should not be beautiful to my ear
but is. Day, year, decade – scale of awful economy.
I want to give him his present but it is not mine
to give. We sit as if mother and son on Christmas Eve
waiting for midnight to tick over, anticipating
the moment we can open his present together –
first my father holding it up to his ear and shaking it,
then me helping him peel back the paper,
the weight of his death knocking,
and once the box is unwrapped it will be mine,
I will carry the gift of his death endlessly,
every day I will know it opening in me.

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