An Anthology of Poetry and Medicine

If Not Absolution

by Matthew Baker

When I pureed the food
to go into my grandma’s stomach tube,
I was oblivious.
TV tuned to daytime news as it always was—
her head shaking at inner city crime, nodding
at how the poor and homeless blighted the streets.
She never complained in front of me,
even as I watched the mush I’d made
slowly empty through the plastic into her body.
But then she became this broken, half-live doll:
the nurse lifting her arm
to work the joints, rotating her shoulders
to loosen up the sockets, ventriloquizing her
to the doctor who asked,
Where does it hurt today, missy?
Her hurt was everywhere,
and couldn’t they realize that?
She could no longer walk or stand.
Her skin bruised from IVs threaded to her veins.
The ventilator replaced her voice with its dactylic purr—
SHHHHHHpum           pum, SHHHHHHpum           pum.
She could not articulate
what last respects she felt due
for her difficult life well-lived:
her bridge club, her jewels, her fortitude
against the burning crosses on her Irish-Catholic lawn,
that high-class gaze,
that Jim Crow upturned nose—
powdered pure talcum—,
the tumbler drained and filled each afternoon
and through the night
with ease, the charity she talked about
but seldom gave.
Maybe what deserves respect instead
is how she accepted herself
without excuse.
Though what is dying
if not absolution? Or,
if not that, a softening, then muting,
one voice fewer in the din.


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