After Marie Howe
It was the last day of her life
and none of us knew.
Before we entered her room, my father warned us
she looked worse than she was. No one knew
she was far worse than she looked—
the shape of her hairless head
against the pillow, her skin ash,
and so much of her gone.
Her half disappointment at seeing me see her:
“You came? When did you come?”
I sat at her bedside, latching on
to useless things—the cold sunlight, the nurse’s optimism.
I know now she knew what would happen next,
snow cells invading her lungs even as we sat.
It was in the way I was last to leave her room
and turned to blow a kiss,
and the way she raised her hand, slowly,
as if to say goodbye and stop at the same time.
I didn’t realize until much later that our final exchange
was a miscommunication—
Because I meant, I’ll see you soon, I love you.
And she meant, I love you, goodbye.