At My Mother's Deathbed
The leaves of the plum tree outside the window are
Liquid-like blood spatters when the sun plays
I can’t remember about photosynthesis, how it works
When the leaves aren’t green.
The pillowcase under her head is a stiff, bleached field of white
Sprayed with tiny pink flowers,
Not the one from yesterday, which was, as I recall,
Blue with yellow stripes.
Memory: she took me out of school—fourth grade? fifth?—and
We rode an AC Transit bus to the city to buy clothes at
J. Magnin, and she told me
Red wasn’t my color.
Sitting on the window sill are
Two mismatched plastic water glasses—
One a quarter full of Ensure, the other of water—
Each with a maroon-handled metal spoon
Leaning against its rim.
On the dresser, a photograph of her and my one-year-old son, who wore
A blue shirt and red Oshkosh overalls,
Very much the fashion in 1986.
Her moaning is terrible until
I ask Kathleen to give her the morphine
Half an hour early.
Her watch, which she keeps checking, is
Large-faced, with a stretchy red band.
“Twenty-five dollars at CVS,” she often told me,
Even when she could no longer remember
My son’s name.
Another memory: she taught me to play mahjong
When I was nine, then waited for me to come home
So we could set up tiles on the table in front of
French doors that opened onto the fern garden.
Winds, dragons, flowers.
Bam, crack, dot.
“Real players play it faster,” she
Liked to let me know.
She was born when Woodrow Wilson was president.
Her fingers look just like mine.
The moaning is terrible. She is pulling at the sheet.
“We’ll call the nurse,” Kathleen says.
The painting on the wall is one she
Painted of our house in 1964.
In it, the green leaves of trees—
Whose conversion of light into chemical energy I
Through the window of my father’s study,
Pens and pencils bloom
In a squat, red pot.
She took a class through Adult Ed. One class.
The red doesn’t mean anything. It is just
The truth around us on
I thought writing it down would
Safeguard the details of grief,
The minutia of loss,
Would remind me how I felt, watching
The empty gaze,
The caving-in of skin over bone,
The arms vainly flailing,
The rattle-y slowing-down.
But it is already fading, all that.
And what I mainly remember is hopefully modeling the plaid dress
In the tiny, mirrored room,
And then my heart shriveling in my chest as she told me, authoritatively, thatI should try on something blue instead.