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
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
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. Jfreed.weebly.com