It’s hard not to know what could happen

In Chicago, my mother-in-law is transferred
to a hospital room, waiting for updates

from doctors after two surgeries just days
apart— the first, an incision in the neck

to open the artery then clean out material
in the region of its narrowing; the second,

to thread a wire into a vein beneath
the collarbone then tether a pacemaker

to her heart. Where we are in the southeast,
I listen to news relayed by text and phone

as my husband and his siblings confer
in measured language on details of post-

surgical recovery. He’s told, not out
of the woods completely: how her speech

turns syllables on themselves, emerging
from under the veil of anesthesia; or how

one side of her face doesn’t seem to have
caught up with the other. When he relays

this information at the dinner table,
he doesn’t seem to notice the agitated

flutter begin in his right knee, and how
his foot drums a rapid, nervous rhythm

on the floor. He checks through the day
for additional information; and I, too,

wait for its trickle in my direction.
Of course I am thinking of her, but also,

I can’t help thinking of my own mother
on the other side of the world (who’s the same

age): how these days there’s little I know
about her daily situation, since relatives

she lives with have either changed
their phones or for whatever reason,

have been purposefully blocking my attempts
to reach her. When I was a child, she was always

saying things like What will be, will be;
or Life is short, someday we’ll have to return

it. The last time I saw her, the smallest things
often moved her to tears: Now I am old, now I live

mostly by myself; this is now my life. I wish
I could take both their hands in my own, say

something that would make sense. Then maybe we
might either cook, or go out to look at shoes.

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