Extended Release

Illustration by Anne Le Guern


The oxy hardly works at all. The refrigerator
rings like a telephone. I hold her hand as another
nonhealer unwraps and anoints her flaming sores.
Sores isn’t right. They’re craters or portals
she keeps slipping through: hospital, rehab,
hospital, home. The visiting nurse, with whom
I’ve fallen in love, whispers, You’re so strong
to my mother, who’s too tired to laugh. To me,
You’re doing a good job. I could weep but I don’t.
My mother keeps yelling into the landline,
Somebody’s at the door! I dispose of sour milk
and a rotting pepper from the bottom drawer.
She points at the ceiling whirlpools and asks,
What do you think I’ll wear up there? I dress
her in a clean fleece nightgown. She feels so cold.
Soon she can’t lift her bruised hands. I call 911.
When she opens her eyes to the EMT she cries,
Oh, Les, what have you done. Each new doctor halts
that prayer of oxycodone. I should have brought pills,
but I won’t know how to daughter till it’s done.
I swear that refrigerator’s haunted. I’m writing this
poem I’ll never be able to read aloud after another
transfer. Can I have a bed, she says, while lying in one.
She’s in quarantine but I hear she’s refusing Ensure
and those tiny cubed peaches, tender as blisters.
She always thought people had a right to end
their suffering. She never believed in heaven.
But I’m not going to that other one, she tells me,
raising the skin where her eyebrows would have been.
Our favorite places occupy us. I can almost smell
the ringing edge of the ocean. Hers is a garden.
But there can be a garden near a beach, I say,
full of tropical flowers, we can be neighbors.
She smiles under palm fronds, lit by hibiscus,
full-bellied and dazzled and finally warm.

Wheeler-Poetry-Audio.mp3 (1.4MB)