Things Impossible to Swallow • poems by Pamela Garvey • number 24 in the 2River Chapbook Series2River

The Distant

Dabbing my fevered body in alcohol, she hummed an old Irish song, its hunger—
the dead, the distant.

Several times the song petered away, the hand holding the sponge hesitated
above me, cold drops

trickling onto my belly as she squinted at the hallway, cursed those Brits.
Each time I tugged her back:

Did Mary spank Jesus? Why did God let soldiers shoot
at you? Who created God?

No answers, just frowns down at me, poking lumps on her knee, crooked
from a broken bone

never set. I should bathe that sore knee now. Feet and legs too.
But she can't smell any more.

Not ointment that gags me. Not beer bread so fresh, steam fills
the plastic bag, blurs

the price she no longer argues against. Maybe I could yank her back with receipts
waved in the face, but I leave her,

staring at, or beyond, wisterias tangling outside the window. Rosary beads dropped
to lap, back hunched as if ready

to return to crawling. Perhaps along the soldiered fields she left decades ago,
long before marriage and children, when people

used to pay her to read the future. That night she broke my fever with what she called
surgical spirits, she pulled out

the Tarot and taught me such foresight. She asks me now to tell her fortune, speak
of what’s to come. Beads unstrung

and rolling down the floor; petals, vines twisting. Really I see nothing more
than bags and receipts blowing down the street.