LS (2/11/1943 / Mingo Junction, Ohio)

Late Afternoon In The Nursingh Home


We sit near the window whiling the hours
out of the day, till she tells us, “I want to
write a letter to my sister Mary in Detroit.” She has
been saying this for days, and so my wife borrows a
clip board, some paper, and a pen from the duty nurse.

This is a new thing, and so at first
Ann hands it to her mom, who strokes the paper,
holds the pen as if it is a strange tool.
“Okay, ” Ann says, “I’ll write it for you.”
Her mom lays down the pen and picks up
her baby doll, covering its little head—
this giving and this taking away.

“What do you want to say to her? ”
Nothing comes from her lips,
as she strokes the baby’s cold head.
“Mom, what would you say? ”
“To who? ” Ann bites her lip, “To Mary in Detroit.”
We breathe in these long silences before dusk,
till Ann gives up, and I take up the pen and ask,

“Sue, what would you say? ” And while
looking at Ann she speaks, “Tell her
thank you for her call…and for her letter.”
I write this down, and read it back. “What else? ”
She looks back at Ann for answers. We wait.

“They have mass here on Thursday.”
It is hard to tell if she means this for the letter
but I write. “Okay, ” I say, “what else? ”
She turns back to me, this pen writing on paper
as though a compass. “I don’t know. Thank her
for her letter and her call.” Do I write this again?
How true to keep this to her at this moment? “Oh and
say hello to her husband. Say I hope he’s doing well.”
Ann looks up at me—Mary’s husband has been
dead for 30 years. We nod, and I write, “Okay,
what else would you tell Mary now? ” And I look
over at her confused face, read this strange journey
she’s been on and how to speak of it? A sadness
of twilight comes on, as we wait. And then
she speaks, “Tell her the weather is nice.
It’s a beautiful day. That’s all.”
Ann folds the paper over twice and slides it
into its envelope.

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