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Linda Zisquit Linda Zisquit

from "The Face in the Window"

Look, she’s sleeping now,
her glasses on the table
next to a phone. But she can’t
answer. Her words snag.
When I ask if she’s sad,
a tear forms in the corner
of her eye. She can no longer
see the field of pine trees
where he took me. Then
her x-ray vision perceived
the world illicit: soldiers
in uniform, secret convocations
near the pavilion, my brother and I
alone, unseen, though I felt
her gaze upon us where we lay.
Now she’s safe in bed,
slowly dying. And he’s
there still, a shade
at the end of a woods, alive.

I’m not home, my mother
lies in a bed in South
Florida, mucous leaks
from her dried out mouth,
her lungs labor shallow
as a crab, as a bellows
in brief performance.
I sit next to her listening,
no longer wait for her rhythms
to swing from my behavior,
freed of the burden to play out
approval or alleviate pain
by suppressing the self
as it surfaces hot staccato
at family reunions. Still I
want to know what my brother
whispers to open her eyes,
what words he croons
into her ears to soothe her.

Oh the habit of acquisition still numbs
the guilt, and as you’re leaving I’m still
shopping, still repeating “stop” as I grab
all my hands can hold before closing time.
I try on sweaters over my t-shirt, dresses
over my pants, claim I’m buying them for my
daughters when it’s me in the dressing room
gorging myself. Have I neglected you?
taking off in the middle of thought as you lie
still, one ear turned towards me like an eye?
We’re both pretending you’re too sick
to see through me. I spend too much money
and wound you again. This time I promise
for what it’s worth to return home empty.

In the Vitas Hospice House
on the hospital’s 4th floor,
it’s always ‘after,’ what else
is there to do? Yet it hums
with a soft ‘before,’ tiptoing
in the halls, till a visitor intrudes,
“one sec, I’ll leave you alone—”
but I don’t want to talk.
She ropes me into conversation,
brings in her friend
the ‘Jewish Priest of Healing’
whose mother in the next room
“has already begun her journey.”
Mike and I find ourselves
listening as we follow them,
allow these women
to lay hands on our mother’s
chest, to rub her scalp
and praise her readiness—

Morning again. The sun shines
on her face, she breathes, sweats,
twitches her mottled feet as I check
them, appears after all these days
on the brink of recovery. Maybe their
priestly hands held power. Or she -
skeptical as ever - found a way to
escape them. When I signed her in
my brother accused me of murder.
What is our part in this production?
Like a chorus around her bed
we watch each sacred scene
without resistance, and maybe
he’s right - how can we do this?
how can we hasten her end
by making her light, assist her lift-off
as the ‘priest’ applauds her mission,
blesses our skill in letting go —

She opened her eyes as he repeated
“—for the kids, the kids, the kids!”
As she closed them I said, “She opened
her eyes, she heard, how lucky we are!”
as if to offer him a line through grief.
At the end of seven days he raged.
It was like the scum when soup boils,
an overflow to be wiped away
before serving. Throughout her year-
long illness and stroke-death dying,
I considered her muteness a fitting reply
to his crazed and cursed eruptions:
not to hear them again, or take his
rebukes. I didn’t know how he needed
the release till I filled his freezer,
cooked a nourishing stew in preparation
for my leaving. Then I watched him
scream, heard him blame me,
saw my mother’s face, her eyes opening.