Servitude

Isn’t it always about our relationship to time:
how we bargain, attempt to wrestle with

the impossible, rewrite the memos that read
like intractable sentences? Those summer months

when the cruel grandmother had come to live
with us, past midnight I heard her cries

from the room down the hall: calling for her son,
for water, for the bedpan. And yet he never

was the one to attend to her afflictions,
but the daughter-in-law she treated for decades

as someone not good enough for the favorite,
her unico hijo. Though muffled, the emanations

of that pain, and my mother’s, felt quilled
and tufted into every mattress. How pitifully

they shuffled in their robes and house slippers
around the breakfast table; how meanly laid

the lines around their eyes, when each
was barely looking. I thought I’d try to make

some things easier: fetch and carry, put away,
my small hands clasping the water pitcher.

One morning, rushing ahead of grandmother,
thinking to open the heavy door before

she got there— how could I anticipate
she’d trip and fall? No one perceived

my small intention; and the bones
are more brittle after a certain age.

Though she recovered from that incident,
her later years were divided between wheel-

chair and bed. Imperious until the end,
she became the idol whose whims we served:

smoking her thin cigars, rasping orders
until her own grip on life at last unfixed.

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