Through the modest window above their bed,
the young woman lay still and listened to voices
of passersby with words lifting and falling.
She waited in the dark for coolness to find her.
Her fast ears wandered and scanned the surface
like a submarine, shyly listening. Outside, townsfolk set down heavy yokes
and let jokes, simple joys, and fragments of the day
fall from their lips like Hansel and Gretel
dropping crumbs of bread. Sidewalk traffic
walked and talked freel
I never thought about living
in a nursing home until a social worker
declared that Mother needed the care
given in such a place. The words whirled,
swooped and kicked in the door
of her house. No compromises. Her mind
fought against leaving irises, gardenias,
hydrangeas. No desire to live
where wheelchairs grew beside narrow beds. Five years later, I can look back and see the truth:
those who bloom in nursing homes
are strange flowers indeed. Strange,
as in exotic—
Bright and sassy, Joy caught
a cowbird with a broken leg.
She mended it, taught it to whistle,
named it Ringo, gave it a television.
Bebopping around, she modeled
how to walk like a bird.
Then she sang a Beatles song to Ringo,
letting her ponytail flippity-flop. One starry evening, Fletcher dressed
in heels and blue satin like a starlet
and sat herself down in front of
a wide-screen where she imagined
chatting with the movie star
Julia Roberts. Fletcher fit right
Outside, a scowling mass of black clouds refuses to let
a ray of light pass through. Leaves tug at trees. Thunder crumples sky, lightning tears at it. And now, rain! It pelts sharp and fast on the tin. Inside, a restless volley of words. Hot tears from the woman. She runs out of talk, but her mind flutters like cottonwood leaves. She catches her husband rolling his eyes, taking a deep breath, blowing out a sigh. Then he puts the heel of one hand on his forehead and presses a