Close Parentheses (The Last Love Song)

As I watch you eating creamed corn with a fork, I think of your mother,
Who once placed a spoon in your hand as I do now.
You take it trustingly and finish your corn without spilling
On the napkin I tucked under your chin.
I think again of her, seeing my mirror image.
We are the women whose love framed the eight decades of your life,
The opening and closing parentheses,
The braces enclosing your magnificence.

When you cough, I hand you a napkin, remind you to cover your mouth,
Coach you in swallowing. I take your hand, gently, as she would have done,
Help you rise from your chair, steady your hesitant steps.
You are like petals folding into their calyx, or a hibiscus closing for the night.
I admire the young mother who coaxed this bud into bloom,
Who intuited from slender wisps of hope the man you might become.

Now as our world shrinks to a table for two,
The taste of butter your sole residual joy,
I remember how you could spin me in a waltz,
Turn on the sun with a moonlight kiss,
Harbor me within your encircling arms.
I feel sure you cannot unbecome what you became.
What you have been, you are.

I must intuit, as your mother did, what you need and feel.
Once you said fervently, “With all my being I love you.”
Now the words will not come, yet I believe them.
Even as my heart grows heavy with fearful tears,
I read your smile, and strangely find content.

She has done well by you,
The woman whose love you did not have to earn,
Who guided your toddler steps uphill,
Releasing you when your manly stride
Assured her all was well.
May I do equally well by you, holding your hand to guard against a fall,
Helping you gently down the shadowy slopes,
Releasing you when the evening petals close
And the music from the stars
Assures me all is well.

© 1999 by Helen Heightsman Gordon

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