Listening to the radio, I heard
that the star Regulus is 79 light years
from the Earth. And I thought,
Mom died when she was 79 years old.
that the light that left Regulus at her birth
at her death, that the light of her birth
was in some way also
the light of her death.
The light of her birth and death was winging
cross the vast empty coldness at nearly six trillion miles a year
while she tried to ride a cow on an Iowa farm
and broke her nose; as she played high school basketball
with the court divided into three sections
with two guards, two centers, and two forwards on each team
restricted to their respective sections because girls
weren’t supposed to run too much; as she survived
scarlet fever and made her way through nursing school;
as she married and bore twins, Jane and James, who were so premature
only the birthlight of the sun reached them
before they died. And on the light of Regulus came
while she raised six other children, returned to work as a nurse when
times got hard, lost another son, gained grandchildren,
and tended her husband as he ailed and died.
All in all
a good life she would have said, but not a good
or an easy death, about which she could say nothing. The light
neared, and her brain began to bleed because of her blood-thinner.
A surgeon told us he could save her life, and he did
in as much as he staved off her death. But he didn’t save
her, her mind, her radiant self. He took too much brain
in return for so little life. He took the names of her children
and left bewilderment and incapacity. My dosage, she told me,
they must change my dosage. Explanation was no use.
Finally she refused food, water—her dignity, her determination
were still there, deep down. And blessedly, the light arrived.
The thread was cut. Jesus gathered her home.
You pick the metaphor or metaphysical mechanism
you prefer. (Her pick was God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
but as a devout Catholic she had no doubt prepared herself
for a purgatorial stint before she could enter into
the Presence itself.)
And maybe I shouldn’t add my fanciful flight
to all the tropes and tales our race has already amassed
against death. But I have to wonder if at this moment
there isn’t the light of one particular star
and whether there isn’t
a certain wave
in that unwavering stream
that when it crests
and breaks against this planet
will mark the end of my journey too,
equal in time though not in distance.
[Editor’s Note: Publication of this poem was made possible by a gift from Kate Strong Stadt during our annual Kickstarter.]
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