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Taking This In

by Jennifer Freed

(In the first spring of the Covid-19 pandemic)


My mother sits in her kitchen while I stand 

on her patio, our palms pressed 

to the sliding glass door as we speak 

on our phones.  


She must have misplaced her glasses today. I notice 

the shape of her cheekbones, how much warmth

in her eyes. She beams

as she did in the hospital, those first dreamy weeks 

after her stroke, before 

she understood.                                                              

Today she is radiant, more radiant than I have seen her 

in over a year. Today she is the most beautiful

woman I have ever seen. 


We do not go near what hovers around us—the lesson 

floating on the air we don’t dare to share. 

I don’t know when or whether 

I’ll ever touch her again. 

But right now, if she has considered

how long these strange days may go on, 

she isn’t dwelling on it. She is smiling. We can’t seem to stop



I remember how brightly she laughed when she first 

tried to stand after her stroke (My legs fell asleep!)

I remember her ease with the nurse who held her

in front of the commode (We’re slow dancing!)

while a second nurse cleaned her behind.


Now she says, as she says every day when I call, 

that she hasn’t done anything 

useful—but today 

she’s decided it’s okay, she is lucky 

to have help, she’s letting herself be happy 

to be queen for a while. 

I draw a heart on the glass, kiss it.

She grasps her walker, pushes to stand, kisses back.


When my father comes into the room, she hands him 

the phone, asks him to explain 

what she’s been struggling to arrange 

into words—the history they learned 

on that documentary yesterday. 

Wonder and pleasure move over her face 

at the ease of his language—ancient Egypt, pharaohs 

and deities—but I am not really listening 

because she is leaning her head against his body 

as he stands behind her chair, and he  

is resting his palm on her arm,

and I watch her drifting 

on the rise and fall of his voice. I watch her 

gazing out at the sky, at the trees, at me. 

She finds my eyes, mouths, I love you,


and I am still 

standing outside the glass door, taking all of this in.

Jennifer L Freed has recent poetry in Zone 3, Worcester Review, Atticus Review, Atlanta Review, and other journals. Her poem-sequence “Cerebral Hemorrhage” won the 2020 Samuel Washington Allen Prize (New England Poetry Club). Her recently completed full length manuscript, in which “Taking This In” appears, is currently seeking a publisher.      

Taking This In was previously published in New Verse News

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