for Joan M. Burns (1971-2008)
It was an evening in mid July.
You and your brother were staying at a hotel
downtown, on your way back to Florida,
after weeks of traveling across the north east,
revisiting all the old haunts: homes and graveyards,
friends, family, favorite bars.
“The last hurrah!” your brother exclaimed,
knocking back his fourth whiskey,
but I pretended not to hear,
just kept watching you. The way your lips moved
with barely a sound, how your eyes fluttered
and your head sagged like a damp flower.
You hardly touched your food.
Down to fifty-eight pounds
at your last check-up.
Yet, your hair was still beautiful,
flowing around your shoulders, shiny
like the wheels of your chair.
I didn’t know what to say, or feel.
I was happy just to see you again, happy
you got to meet my wife,
happy, yet guilty for it, watching you.
All I could think of were those times
we’d sit up all night, laughing,
drinking ourselves into forgetting.
After dinner we went up to your room.
From the window we watched the lights
and traffic of the city below.
You talked about the old days again,
as if they were the here and now, as if
by repeating all those names and places
you could somehow hang on.
With the morphine you drifted off
to a place beyond any of our reach.
When we were getting ready to leave
you came around again, made me promise
we’d do this again before too long.
Outside, waiting for the taxi
I looked up at hotel, my eyes searching
from one corner to the next,
trying to find your window.