blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 9  No. 1
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The Withholding

Time for goodbye, mother said.
I thought my uncle would say it,
but she said, No—we are the ones.

Beside a slatted blind, his arm lifted
and lifted from the wrist as if drawn
by a string. Mother slid to the linoleum,

back to the wall. When she asked,
Why’s he doing that?
she was his baby sister.

Reaching, the nurse said, for his
loved ones waiting.

I tried to feed him a sip of water.

He clamped the cut straw between
his teeth, where it stuck out—
rakish, like a cigar.

The nurse squeezed his cheeks
until the straw tumbled onto his
sheeted chest. Only if they ask, she said.

In the family lounge, I didn’t weep
because I would miss him.
It was the water, that straw.
The fierce mercy of withholding.  end

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