People ground down by what the doctors call
“acute COPD” have not much but a vacuum
left inside when the ache of that last onset
invades the hospice air. But even though
that’s so, and even though there came a time
when what she wanted most was just to sail
away, the body holds some tenets of its own.
There, at the end, I saw my mother’s mouth
become a perfect round, a ring, a dark hole
clearly larger than it ever seemed before—
and it strove, I thought, through the scrim
of morphine, to draw into that dim chasm
everything it could. O, let the earth be
shoveled in, it seemed to say. O, let now be
consumed into this disk of dark, this gape,
the air and every small or massive entity—
all this lonely, frightened, wanting, weary,
sad and hurting woman has throughout
her little and long life never known. And then,
the heaving ceased. And the great shroud of the sea
rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.
Leon Stokesbury teaches creative writing and literature in the graduate writing program at Georgia State University in Atlanta. He is a winner of the AWP Poetry Competition and the Poets’ Prize, and the author or editor of many books.