I don’t know how it is she keeps holding on to life,
the preacher’s wife, mother of seven,
drawn toward heaven one pound at a time,
bone thin and skin you can read through.
At some point, it must be that something in the body
will be too weak to keep spirit and flesh bound together.
“Is my husband dead? Has my mother been over here to see me?”
She carries the determination of generations
of hard soil farming in West Kentucky–
Gowers and Herndons and others stretching back
in and along the chiseled hills of Trigg County,
backs breaking behind the plows,
long rows of corn and tobacco bladed from the earth,
hickory and ash split for the hearth,
lives of labor from birth to buried.
“What are those things out there? What are they doing?”
The sisters say they’ve had glimpses
of her knowing who they are, who she is,
flickers of recognition that come wisping along
into moments of conversation,
a changing light in her eyes and brief smiles.
She and I used to sit for hours after Dad had gone to bed,
talking at the table in the kitchen of the house they built
when they were both past seventy.
She mixed the mortar and he lay the blocks of the foundation.
“I wish I could just lie down, go to sleep and not wake up.”
Charlie passed away five years ago, one day after her birthday.
If she makes it eleven more days in the nursing home at Mayfield,
she’ll have counted ninety-nine years of this world,
its joys and aches, the long breaks that run between
all that she’s seen of good and evil in her days under the sun.
I think she may be tired of counting.