by Ann McNeal


First fear, then the diagnosis.
I try to find her

amid all the busyness.
Then delay.
In nine months death grows close

until it’s here in the room,
a light white room with three people dying.
Beyond the curtain, a woman wipes

silently with a blue rag mop,
the space that held last night
a family’s muted cries,
another dying woman.

I come closer to her than I ever have,
see the distance more clearly.
Distance not to be crossed,
secrets not to be discussed.

Love keeps me quiet.
Or self-preservation.
It would not help to speak now.

She goes easily, an unexpected gift.
I believe I helped her give birth
to peace, her fourth child.

But what do I do
with my anger at her complicity,
with my sorrow for her narrow life,
the ways she held back from living?

I cannot say that peace is simple--
mine I mean, I don¹t know about hers.
My peace comes driving to work,
with dirty dishes left in the sink
and doubts still cobwebbing the corners.

First published in
Patchwork Journal, Issue 4, 2004.