When I pictured you
lifting the old people out of bed,
emptying their pans and glasses,
helping them down the hall
and reading to them until their eyes
drifted upward like bubbles,
it was impossible to explain
how you got there.
I began by imagining myself
taking everyone daffodils,
sneaking into the fluorescent ward
after curfew to watch them sleep
and listen as they wheezed
and kept you awake.
And even when I created their dreams
about streets that no longer exist,
and yours about cows and a drowsy father,
that was no answer.
Were you a sentinel
called there to report death
and cancel it somehow,
and if you were God’s replacement
what can you say about it?
Late one night, visiting you
with friends, I pushed open the door
where you were staying
and the face of an old lady
saw someone who looked back at it
and for no reason said hello.
Tell me, did I speak to a friend
or to nature? Who was I trying to reach?
I will go on asking you
what we were doing there
and what you learned
because I am everyone who was not there,
and could not feel your thin hands
cup his head into the air
for transparent food
or bunch pillows under his neck,
or see you kneel at the side of a bed
barely dented with the weight
of a human body.
And explain this—each night since then
I have heard the stupidity of the words
you picked out of good books
so they would rest and understand.
© Stephen Berg