My grandmother sits in her recliner
In her den, drinking coffee, looking out
At birds that fight over the bird-feeder
As autumn shadows march from woods to house –
The sun now angling downward in the sky,
And chilly air signals winter’s approach.
Sometimes we talk about my work at school.
I teach in the school district where she taught
For forty years, and so she likes to hear
How things have changed, and how they’ve stayed the same.
“Your grandfather is at the store,” she says.
“He will be sorry that he missed you here.
You’ll have to come back by again sometime
And say hello to him.”
The mood is sweet.
It almost seems that she is not aware
That she is gone. For me, it’s like the scene
From Wilder: Emily comes back from death
To live one day, only to learn that she
Has lost the chance to value every day
And even every minute of each day.
But in our case, it is she that comes back,
And I who lose the chance to value her.
When I wake up I know the truth again:
My grandfather died almost three years back,
My grandmother followed him this past spring.
My mother’s mother, on the other side
Passed away exactly four weeks later.
I see them all, I speak with them in dreams.
They are with me, but not with me, because
I know what they do not know: that they are
Shadows, born in my imagination.
I see my grandfather and hear his walk,
His good leg steps, followed by the bad one,
Paralyzed by polio, made rigid
By a metal brace. The metallic clink
Of the brace was my signal as a child
That he was home. The sound echoes and rings
Through the now-empty house, and I can see
His labored steps moving through the hallway,
And I can hear his voice, not heard at all
These last three years. He calls my name and talks
About the latest Mizzou football game.
Then sadly, I am awake. The shadows
Were simply shadows, and nothing better.
I lost them once, and I lose them again
Each time I wake up.