“Do you know what your father did?”
(Grandpa had ripped the IV from his arm last night
and slunk to the bathroom bleeding.)
Her chastising words - “Young immune systems
cannot combat death!” then chase me into the elevator
and out on to First Avenue’s black-speckled streets.
I study the stroller canopy while I walk, fighting to replace
the nurse’s scolding eyes with those of a proud man smiling
as his great-grandson touches his shaking hand.
“You're my favorite grandpa.”
“I’m your only.”
I am not there when he gasps he cannot breathe,
when residents rush a crash cart to his body.
I am not there until later, when one uncle cracks
jokes as he cries, another talks of sleep and work,
and the last insists we move Pop to the Upper East Side.
My mother consults her brothers before she decides
to sign to let the doctor prep his neck and put in lines.
We wait where the carpet is dull and the Bible passes
from hand to hand. We glare at the black television,
its Out of Order sign, and at nurses’ aides who talk
loudly into their phones, excitedly slipping
green bills into the vending machine.
Two weeks later, in yet another ICU waiting room,
my son woos visitors with his lamp-like eyes
and his gummy giggle. He blows raspberries
from an oblivious mouth; and, as a magician
finds flowers in a sleeve, his coos cull sorrow
from our brows and wake our dormant laughs.
Soon it is my turn to sit at Grandpa's bedside.
I pass through automatic doors, then white bed
after occupied bed until I reach his threshold.
His thinly veiled chest inflates… collapses;
and between his teeth, a piece of yellow plastic lies
as still as a tree frog in hiding.
I had forgotten growing up means
the people I love get older too.
My mother has taped photographs of us to the wall.
In one my grandfather grins because it is his birthday.
He stands straight, his capable hands (that once counted
taxi fare change) gripping the top of an unseen cane.
Behind large glasses and below a New York
Yankees cap, his eyes crinkle for the camera.
I hold my grandfather’s swollen hand and slick back
his sparse unruly hairs to kiss his sweating forehead.
I try to hide the heaving in my eyes
when a nurse asks me to leave
in order to switch his lifted side.
Copyright 2011 Xiomara A. Maldonado