For Ruth

by Nadia Colburn

Smaller than she has ever been,
she sits in her wheelchair huddled
over the oxygen that is pumped
through a paper cup
up in the direction of her nose.

Smaller even than last week, she sits
struggling for breath ready or not ready
for the great transition.

Her son greets us with jokes, asks about our
New Year’s resolutions, about whether we saw
the new store on the road before
we turned off to the nursing home.

She opens her eyes. Grunts. Tells him
to stop.

This is important work
taking place.

We get up, put Mozart’s flute concerto
on the old boom box and do not

I don’t know if this is the proper
material for a poem, the almost
death of an old lady I have come to almost

Why would it not? Why hesitate? And why call
what I feel for her almost
love? What stone within my heart
holds me back from giving myself

At night, when we are home, I think
of her beautiful face, her eyelids still elegant,
her smile at my daughter the same
as it has always been, concerned, even at this moment,
that she might be causing someone else
to suffer.

I think of her desire to protect the young,
what life did not do
for her: her mother dying when she was ten,
and the Nazis soon to take over
Hannover. What she could not
entirely do for her own children, the suffering
seeping out.

This is not a poem about escape.
As the great transition is not an escape but
a turn in which we meet the part of ourself
we may not want to meet.

And then what happens?

Last year, at almost the same time, our friend’s heart stopped
for a moment. Two months later she saw
shadows about her eyes, the dark
approaching, and nothing, not even her own
ten-year-old twins could keep her fastened
to this life.

Darling. Forgive me.

Forgive me for what?
I want so badly to live sometimes I forget
that I am alive. That this, as it is, is enough.
Even the fear. Even the regrets. That we have, still,
each other, our children, this moment,
now. That everything
just as it is, is a part:
even this difficult dance, the body getting smaller, thinner,
the lips getting chapped, dried out, the heart
getting ready to stop—

Put the music on.
Praise the sky and the stones that also
breathe into this moment, now:

and then, something else.

Published on March 3, 2021