How beautiful you are, my love, my friend; doves of your eyes looking out from the thicket of your hair, like two fawns grazing in a field of lilies. You are beautiful my love, my perfect one.
—Song of Songs
The daughter imagines herself entering the room
through an open window where crocheted curtains
breathe in and out the morning’s crisp air, neshama.
Faceless women, chevra kadishra, long dark tresses tucked under mitpachat
tiny blue flowers dot cotton dresses, white Sketchers,
fingers ringless, their own nails, cleaned, clipped and unpolished.
In silence, hand washing, water pouring, motioning,
cleaning, cleansing, cloths, more water, towels;
The chevra nod to each other and sway, say prayers
for the dressing, the undressing, misheberach, and mechillah,
a prayer for peace, Oseh Shalom.
The daughter imagines surrounding her mother’s body
with golden Jonagolds, a garland of autumn leaves
in place of the cotton cap
where wisps of white hair poke through.
The daughter watches in silence like a deer,
from the bracken thicket after sunrise.
She watches as the dragonfly lands on a stalk of wheat
her own breath suspended in air, like the fly fisherman’s line
before it strikes the water’s surface.
The daughter stoops below the arms of the women,
smells rose milk lotion of her mother’s skin,
the vanilla yogurt of her mother’ breath.
She, alone, waits for the call
from the caregiver, the one that will release
her mother from her pain.
At the hospice center,
Mom lies exhausted in bed,
stares absently through
the sky’s broken blue.
The sinews of her limp
arm wrap around my neck,
her too long nails
poke my shoulder.
“Am I going to heaven?” she whispers.
To hear her, it’s ear to mouth.
Like a lover, my mother,
I want to gaze into her green eyes,
the two of us, green leaves,
rest our heads on the stem
of camellia’s bloom.
You have to keep breaking
your heart until it opens, says Rumi.
I watched her heartbeat so fiercely,
it bulged from her chest.
I leave her room with a handful
of diamond rings, amber bracelet,
a sample of her favorite perfume, Rose 31.
I linger a little longer in the living room.
Some of the patients are stirring—
classical strings play on the radio,
hard boiled eggs bubble to the pots’ surface,
the tv turns itself on.
I watch Magda stuff lilacs, peonies,
and irises into a vase.
“You must have a beautiful garden,”
she smiles, arranges the flowers
as if they are for her.
“Beautiful,” she says again,
places the vase in the center
of the kitchen table,
decorated with embroidered linens,
a bowl of peaches,
loaves of warm bread.
Sherri Levine is an artist and poet living in Portland, Oregon. Her poems have been published in “CALYX, Poet Lore, The Timberline Review, Jewish Literary Journal, Mizmor Anthology,” and others. She won the Lois Cranston Memorial Poetry Award and also First Place in the Oregon Poetry Association biannual contest. Her book, “In These Voices” was published last year.