Animal Nightmares (Backwards Worries)
Keith sleeps on the couch, legs twitching like a dog
running in a dream. I leap, perhaps unreasonably, from man to dog
to squirrel, to that squirrel hit in the road, thrashing with the pain of its death
throes. In hard rain. I remember thinking then that I didn’t want to die
like that, in broken agony, cold and wet, drowning in a downpour.
Alone. Let me die, I thought, quietly in my sleep when I’m in my nineties
or hundreds. Or let me live forever, warm and comfy, slipping directly
into heaven or nothingness without any of the pain or fear of dying.
I heard several stories about my mother’s death. She died
peacefully in her sleep, one nurse told me. Another described the death
rattle of her breathing. So sudden and unexpected, when shortly before,
they’d checked her and she was fine. Many years ago, my mother was rushed
to the hospital one morning, after lying awake for hours in pain and anguish.
If I had died, she said, they might have said I died peacefully in my sleep.
Keith sleeps on, his twitching subsided now. I had a dog once
that cried and yelped and twitched in his dreams and not with running.
Every time he fell asleep, his old owner beat him. We rescued him
from a stock truck on a cattle ranch. We don’t know who had locked
him there and left him
for over a week with no food or water, but we know that man’s inner heart.
A dementia patient, someone told me, loses the ability to communicate pain.
My mother seemed okay before she died. Fading, but not in pain.
“The dwindles,” perhaps. She had the dwindles once before, her doctor
thought. They start downhill, he said, and it’s like a snowball
gathering momentum. At the home, no one tried to stop it, until I insisted
on appetite stimulants, anti-depressants and sleeping pills.
We turned it around, the doctor said. Amazing.
Now, Keith sleeps alone on the couch, but I think how the kitties loved him,
how they used to lie on and around him, in relaxed abandon or asleep.
Little symphonies of snores and purring. My mother always said
she wasn’t worried about dying. Fred’s father wasn’t, either. He drowned
in a sailing accident, and my colicky baby, who never slept, slept
on Fred’s shoulder for hours at the wake. When I offered to take her,
he simply shook his head.
I wasn’t there when my mother died. I didn’t know she was dying, not
then, not so soon. Though when I last visited her, she told me
how she’d just seen her parents, how they were coming back
for her soon. Maybe they were there with her when she died. Maybe
one of the nurses or aides held her hand. They did that, in the commons.
They held her hand.
Mary Stebbins Taitt
For Margaret, 070209e, first, Friday, February 09, 2007
I just wrote this poem today, and worked on it all day so far--it's 1:45 PM and I started before 8. Literally. It's about change(s). Death is a pretty big change. I feel as if I should talk about it, if I am going to submit the link, but poems make a quiet place in my heart when I spend this much time on them. It's a new poem, so it's probably not done, and I am not ready for critical feedback yet. The pain of my mother's recent death is too tied up in this poem for me to be ready to attack it critically. You could say hello though, if you'd like. That would be nice.