Across

I may be too late. I shift in the cramped seat
and my neck creaks.

I’m cornered in the clear forehead of a bus clattering down the Autobahn.
It’s midnightish, but the passengers are fielding calls or eating loud smelly things
and my neighbor (ancient, monumental and disturbed) is oozing into my space.
Surrounded, I can escape only through the window,
into the phantasmagoria. There are quadriplegic godzillas with spinning heads.
There are constellations of red eyes over the highway, haghaired shadows staring in
as we drive between their legs. There is the pillared and arching night,
majestic as only the truly cold can be, and emptier than a dead mind,
so that only some reinforced glass divides me from infinity.

But underneath infinity,
somewhere in the earthly haze of drifting realities,
is the hospital where my grandmother is falling out of her body
amid the blurry, whispering forms of people she’s created.
I might not make it: I’d waited to leave
till she regained consciousness.
Between us still
are many mountains of purple light,
entire centuries gathered in glass domes,
and a movie-marathon
of bad dreams.

Finally my subconscious disgorges
a haunted central station, and I disembark
and search dawn lots for my uncle. He’s
smoking by his car, his scraped-handsome face
inflamed. We shake hands.
“She’s awake,” he says,
and smothers his cigarette.

On the long drive he makes small talk in the
dark, till it’s bright enough for us
to see each other.

We stop in for my grandfather. Their penthouse is eerily serene
before he shouts from the bathroom, and briefly I imagine
she’s in there too, like last time, when I’d arrived early
and glimpsed them naked by the shower,
he attending her, in pink animal light—
Eve and Adam at the end of time.
At that final breakfast over sky
she’d defended death with a white smile
that did not reach the carnage of her eyes,
told me she was used up
and ready to die
while I stared at a breakfast board knifetracked
with maplines of boroughs and harbors—
tiny visions of my far home.
Now the dining room is an exhibit of a gone life:
her crutches and pill calendar, the pulped pears
in glass bowls, the walls with clumsy cartoon murals
painted by children since grown old.
I’m peeling an out-of-season chocolate egg
when my grandfather limps in,
hiding his face,
and he, who had avoided all touch,
who had been distant as a portrait,
embraces me.

His papery warmth.
His fragile ribs.

In all, five family members accumulate in my uncle’s car,
everyone deformed and ill in the same ways, chatting about
anything but. There is a universal queasiness.
I stare out at the ruthless canola fields.

The hospital. In deference to my grandfather
we press into the elevator. The nurses trapped with us
laugh at my uncle’s jokes. I feel like I’m drawn in charcoal
on a burlap sack; I feel poorly animated and sick.
Sick. I expect every room to be hers. Elderly patients gape out
at us thundering past, led by my grim, unspeaking grandfather
galloping on his crutches. Suddenly he wheels right
and there she is,
in a sunny yellow room,
in the furthest of three beds,
under a fiery window,
my grandmother,
Oma
in an oxygen mask,
her eyelids disclosing two icecubes
with a sliver of my same blue.

I had hated and feared her.
She ranted over misplaced mugs,
berated the television, and hammered
and screeched at my gentle grandfather.
She was my enemy.

Now she grips his hand,
and the skin of her arm
looks like loose latex
over peeled blood oranges,
and she gives me
a sad sorry weak quarter-smile
that seems almost guilty,
as if I weren’t supposed to catch her
in the hospital.

She’d always done the talking
and from habit I wait for a greeting
that doesn’t come.

“I came on the night bus,”
I say, and describe it
trying to make her laugh,
but her snickers
are somehow pained,
and she glances at my uncle,
who leans in and whispers,
“She didn’t understand.”

I ask her about the hospital food,
but she just laughs strangely
from deep within
her sorry eyes.

I take her hand for the last
and first time,
smooth back her hair,
kiss her forehead.

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