DEAR MARY, MOTHER OF JOHN

by LINDSEY ROYCE

Dear Mary, mother of John, who if miracles are bread for the soul, you were that flaxseed bread when John was dying. It should have been me, you thought, mourning in your patient way. How you prayed he’d survive The Gulf War infantry only now to bury him. I’m looking at my snow-hike photo, theatrical, his arms outstretched as if inviting forward an imaginary cast. How could you have anticipated his body turning, deteriorating into a hospice bed, his clavicles so starvation-shallow, they became holy chalices to sip from. There is no etiquette for dying. No guidebook. No refuge for we who stood by. Helpless, we knocked each other like carnival clowns, desperate to dispense five painkillers, to wash his hospital gown and blankets after tubes leaked and soiled them, to press cool compresses to his feverish head so he might sleep. Your son died without complaint, fortitude he got from you, Mary. As he left, you stayed calm for him. Now, I wonder how many firsts you recall: his first breath, his first fishing trip with his dad, the first bird-dogs he trained, his first portrait in dress blues — This boy you carried in your womb, fed with small plastic spoons until the I can do it myself  kid insisted on feeding himself.

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LINDSEY ROYCE’S poems have been published in many journals, including Aeolian Harp #8, #7 and #5Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts; The Hampden-Sydney Review; The New York Quarterly; Poet Lore; and Washington Square Review. Her poems have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Royce’s first poetry collection, Bare Hands, was published in September of 2016, and her second collection, Play Me a Revolution, published in September of 2019, won second place for poetry in the 2020 Independent Publishers Book Awards. 

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