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You can’t get away from pain, or your sister in pain,
or the terrible wide doors of the handicap room.
It will break your heart, the way she walks
in the easy hotel pool, and then takes up her cane,
to shuffle from chair to bed. We’ve picked two days
halfway between our towns, to do nothing
together but move from car to restaurant to car,
plus a movie. No excuse for eyeliner, mascara,
yet this is what we do. Sun comes up behind
clouds, rain falls, and I drive us around the lake
to look at people’s idea of summer fun: hot tubs,
decks, ornamental deer, houses closed up already,
boats shrink-wrapped. The day is an eggshell
blown out through one pinprick, pale
and slightly translucent, full of what was.

I remember pretending to be sick, the luxurious
bed at ten am, our mother clattering around
the kitchen, washing clothes. What I had won
for myself felt hollow and safe, barely real, a kind of
loneliness that turns the day holy, as our brother’s
dying turned the cemetery holy, as our mother
beside him. As this weekend, I stare out
at the choppy lake, thinking nothing but lake.
Just what it is: lake, not holy, not not holy, only
a spread of water to turn my thoughts back
in my face. I sit and rub her feet, what I’ve always
done when I didn’t know what else to do.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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