No more than a few steps from the bottom of the stair,
on my way down the hill to get the newspaper,
in the green shoots of ribbon grass where
climbing roses had begun to bud, I saw
a white plastic label with a pointed end —
the kind they put on potted plants to name,
give preferences for full or partial sun.
This advertised a pink geranium, long gone,
covered by growth, invisible in summer
in what drought-resistant brush grew
in the high plains of the Rockies.

I knew at once the woman who lived here
just before us placed it there.
I’d found other labels
clearing the border at the front of the house:
for pansies and yellow tea roses.
They’d all perished, of course,
and only plastic labels stayed,
stubborn for her hope,
enduring the two-foot snows,
the rabbits and the deer, the desiccating cold
that sapped the moisture
from my lemon thyme and sage — but these stayed,
stubborn for her hopeful hands.

When we closed, they drove up
and showed us round.
He took a clipping from the cactus
in the living room, while she sat in the car
(she smiled weakly in the realtor’s office,
made a joke as we signed the papers;
her oxygen tank discreetly sighed).
I looked out on her calm white head
gazing through the window of the Oldsmobile
where the sage and ribbon grass grew wild,
those two months before we heard she’d died.

Palliative Care

Outside, the children, off from school in spring,
march happily in troops of pealing voices
and you hear them, though just now
you couldn’t hear the doorbell ring
and couldn’t choose between the dinner choices.

When the daffodils came out
and we puttered round the house with sheets
you were the first to see them:
you brought me running with a shout
that shoppers must have heard on Granville Street

though just last night
you couldn’t read the headline of the Sun
before I left to get the errands done.

At midday, when the clouds are overcome
and sparrows fill the spaces with their song
while sunlight fills the nursery
you get up from your chair to see the plum
though yesterday the walk was far too long

and yesterday your legs were weak
and yesterday you wouldn’t speak or stand upright,
but all the evening watched
the steady breathing of the light.

Open Push Air Out

I keep meaning to put my pants on
but I don’t.
I keep meaning to put my pants on
but I forget.
I’m trying to drink more milk like you said.
I’m trying to drink more milk
but it soured.
You say I’m still stinky and I get it.
You say I’m still stinky
but at least I showered.
Walk me to the end of the block.
That was how our vow went, was it not?
You walk me to the end of the block
but I stop.

I keep meaning to put on makeup
but it’s gone.
I keep meaning to put on makeup
but it gets in my beard.
I’m trying to catch the bus to work but —
no, I’m trying to catch the bus to work
but it leaves across the street,
to the little butter building
by the legion hall.
You say to ask for help if I need it.
You say to ask for help, but there’s just
the scratch of spiders when I call.
There’s just the sound of water in the pot.
That is how the mouth works, is it not?
Open, push air out.