A Birthday

After ten months in the care
home, her voice seems at the same 
strength again as it used to be:
it ruled the household where
I was raised— commanding us to rise, 
to hurry, to come to the dinner table;

or when she was angry, to get 
out of her sight. She's in the sunny
common room to share birthday cake 
and noodles with other white-
haired seniors and their attendants. 
A moment's lapse, into which now 

she slips more often: thinking 
this is the house to which her husband 
took her, his bride more than sixty years 
ago. He's long gone. That house is gone; 
also the one where she'd lived 
more recently, if that's 

what it can be called—with relatives who kept 
her locked up in a room and left her  
nothing to eat; with only one naked bulb 
for light. When those who were her virtual 
jailers left, all manner of trash was strewn
about, stuffed into moldy kitchen 

cabinets. Pictures fluttered in albums under 
the leaking water tank. At least she was spared this
last sight of those walls painted a mix of Pepto-
Bismol and canary. When someone puts a bouquet 
of blush-tinged roses in her lap, she clutches 
them to her chest and won't let them go. 

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