Once a month
when her doctor visits,
my aunt asks when will she be healed,
believing a broken hip
must be the reason why she's here.
Suspicious of the staff,
she hides her purse, refuses
to remove her watch,
and stows the brittle checks,
account closed years ago, in a hatbox.
She no longer bathes
herself, fearful of water
as if water were a sailor
with roving hands and a crooked smile.
Last night I dreamed
her young again, elegant and cultured --
twin pearls she envied
in others yet never had herself.
On an ocean liner
in the dark, she strolled the deck.
Fog from the cold Atlantic
feathered her shoulders and
swirled like tulle around her waist.
Some days a swell of reason
buoys her up, and she seems
to recognize us;
our arms and hands wave to her.
Most days in a filthy robe she roams
the halls, gray braid swaying
from side to side, and tells anyone
who'll listen she's been kidnapped,
forced to travel miles from home.
Today the cleanup of her home
began: old dresses to charity,
magazines and books to the library,
and on the sloping lawn,
her furniture scattered like debris.
While loading the van,
I tried not to think of how
the ocean steals anything it wants:
bridges, ships, even entire cities;
then throws it all back -- warped
and bleached, battered beyond recognition.
Above the traffic, I heard
a keening, Circe-like, wavering
like the first note of a storm
calling us all out into the waves
where we will be stripped
of everything, even our names.
Copyright © 2001 Mark Rudolph
Mark Rudolph lives in southern Indiana and is a graduate of the Clarion Writers' Workshop. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Chiaroscuro, Electric Wine, Star*Line, Magazine of Speculative Poetry, and other venues. His previous publications in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. For more about him, see his Web site.