An Anthology of Poetry and Medicine

Grandmother Dead, Then Alive, Then Dead Again

by Matthew Baker

Inside of the coffin
my grandmother’s perfume
evaporates and condenses
perpetually. But her shell
has vanished
and flown back
in time to Russia
with my granddad and mom
and is posing for pictures.
There is Red Square.
They wear coats
and gloves made of fur,
and my grandma soars
to five foot five again.
She has not shriveled yet
in this one. My
mother’s hair, long,
pours over her ear muffs
while a soldier stands
half out of frame,
gun an extension of his shoulder.
What did she ask,
my grandma to my granddad,
in the shadows
of Soviet Moscow’s streets?
I bet she just drank
coffee and chatted between
drags of a cigarette
shared with my mom.
In America, she died
with a tube in her
throat, or would have,
but my mom disconnected
the ventilator
to let her go,
to let her take
her last breaths herself—
slow, each exhalation
maybe the last, but followed
by a gasp, her chest filling,
halogen bulbs reflecting
in a sheen of sweat
coating her forehead.
And when her lungs
quit, the blue smock
of hospital gown was still
and flattened like her
in the bed—my first corpse,
warm and tough
under the sheets.
The sweet sweat smell
of her lingering in the air.
My mother dwelled there,
then bent, kissed my grandma’s head.
Days later, when
my mother and I drove away
after the interment,
we did not speak.
I watched
the road,
and the radio
sounded somehow flat,
like the DJ had pressed
the wrong button on the mixer
and made each instrument,
each voice equal but low—
each utterance
a drone
into some
kind of human


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