by Kevin Boyle

I help my mother on the toilet, I help her off,
her cotton housedress soaked through with sweat
and so I take it off with her undershirt and bra.
I place the white, round pill and the fuchsia square
on her tongue, and hold the glass as she shakes
and sucks at the straw. I let her rest
beneath the sheet, naked, the industrial fan
in the hall on airplane-high. At fourteen,
I watched her in the mirror in her slip bend
for the lower dresser drawer while I pretended
to sleep, but watched, the fullness, the firmness,
her body once mine, all hers. I do not recognize it
now in her diminishment, her thirteenth year
of worsening, of sickness, her tremors
so strong the bed shakes and groans, her hands
unable to turn the TV’s remote on to watch
Wheel of Fortune and then Jeopardy, and so I do
her that favor, and turn the lights off and kiss
her dry lips, touch her sweat-darkened hair,
unable sometimes to accept her lack of a death-wish,
her happiness when morning comes, the TV still on.
Her tremors are gone for now, and the awful ache
in the spine and hips and feet and head
and wrists. In that moment of peace before
the next rack of pains, she’s thankful, serene,
happy to touch my hand, to hold her cane, to sit up
for the breakfast in bed: prune juice, bran, coffee
and grapes she hardly touches. Her mind is going
where her body leads her, not knowing this day
of pain from the next, and in that loose skein
of thought she seems almost content, almost gone.

KEVIN BOYLE’s book, A Home for Wayward Girls, won the New Issues Poetry contest and was published in 2005. His poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly, Colorado Review, Cottonwood, Denver Quarterly, Greensboro Review, The Michigan Quarterly Review, North American Review, Northwest Review, Poet Lore, Poetry East and Virginia Quarterly Review. The Lullaby of History won the Mary Belle Campbell Poetry Chapbook Prize and was published in 2002. Originally from Philadelphia, Kevin now lives in North Carolina and teaches at Elon University.