The little house on Oyster Bay

for Georgann, on the first anniversary of her death

While I wait for you to die, I putter
next door in the old house rendered new
after its occupants passed years ago,
the neighbors having rehabbed it into a quaint
guesthouse. I cannot help make comparisons
between the creaky floors on which I pad
and you, brittle and sweaty in your bed,
as the temperature soars inside and out.

Every morning I head for your house,
pick up the leash off the hook by the door
to the garage, find the old dog sprawled
on the dining room floor. You used to have
to step over him to put food-laden bowls
and platters on the table. Now he is the only
one who occupies that relatively cool space.

He, too, is literally on his last legs—arthritic
and prone to falling. I follow his slow progress
outside to the little house next door where I alight
for now. He prefers the freshly mown grass there
to the patch in front of his own house. “It’s good
to get out,” you observe in a rare moment of
wakening. It takes me a second to realize
you’re talking about the dog. “He likes to read
the news left by other dogs.” I chuckle, good
audience that I am.

Your husband lingers at the doorway of
the small room where you are enthroned.
“Don’t forget the blackberries,” he says,
the one in charge now, who looks after you,
a daughter and two granddaughters—cook,
chauffeur, pain meds dispenser, cat and dog
caretaker. “Oh, yes,” you chime in. “They
should be getting ripe now.”

I’ve been reluctant to take up a bowl
and plunge into the blackberries wrangled
into rows by the neighbors, though I’ve been
invited to since I got here. It is early for blackberries;
I can see the ruby jewels from my bedroom
window. They need more time on the vine,
and I’m not certain I’m ready to bear
the inevitable scratches that come from
pursuing such sweetness.

“Would you like some blackberries?” I ask,
you who are eating so little, whose guts release
so quickly what you ingest. You extract the little
opioid sucker from your mouth, hold it up:
“This makes everything taste bad.” It has long
been so, the cocktail of pain meds that has
taken your teeth, your appetite and not a little
of your mind. Wanting as much time
as you can get through this rocky passage,
you’ve paid for it with every lost pound,
shred of memory, bit of balance.

“Still,” you say, popping the sucker back in,
“a blackberry or two might be nice.”

And that sends me into the vines, willing to bear
the tiny wounds, searching for the purplest ones,
settling for slightly violet-red. If you could make
it outside to stand nearby with your own bowl,
you’d hand me a fat berry to sample. I let
kindness melt on my tongue, lingering in
the midst of an overheated day, the tall pines
stilled, no wispy bay breath drifting by.

I wonder how they’ll taste to you.

You can listen to Jan read this poem here.

Oyster Bay, Bremerton, Washington

About janishaag

Writer, writing coach, editor
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