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Friday, May 21, 2021


by Mary K O'Melveny

"Red Composition" by Jackson Pollock

Everyone who knows grief as it settles onto chests,
humid as a jungle, thick as fog on a heath,
understands that goodbyes can be a gift. A brief
cushion to ease the long emptiness ahead.
As I write this, my friend’s husband is dying
in hospice care in New York. He surrendered
after waging a fierce battle with leukemia that,
for a merciful time, he seemed to be winning.
Each arc of loss beams wider than celestial skies
on clear summer nights. His young grandchildren
gather at a grassy hospital garden to say goodbye.
Siblings fly from far-flung homes to do the same.
My sister and I stood at our mother’s bedside
watching lights on monitors fade and fizzle out.
Without evidence of audibility, we still sang to her,
believing emigration is aided by a sound track.

In Gaza, bereaved households are less blessed.
A fine whine of rockets the only warning before
a family’s cardamom tea and künefe splatters
like a Pollock canvas across living room walls.
In Delhi, breaths come to a close after failed searches
for oxygen – it seems there is no price that can be paid
for air though grieving loved ones would mortgage
their own lung capacities if currencies allowed.
In North Carolina, police kill a man as he tries
to drive away from death. His story forms a pattern
recurrent as an Escher etching. Each morning’s only
question – will this day mark memory’s final day.
COVID focused attention toward microscopic gestures –
the tensile strength of touch, the graceful creases
of a laugh line, the thrill of whispered thank yous.
Such gifts may allow us to survive our diminishments.

Mary K O'Melveny is a recently retired labor rights attorney who lives in Washington DC and Woodstock NY.  Her work has appeared in various print and on-line journals. Her first poetry chapbook A Woman of a Certain Age is available from Finishing Line Press. Mary’s poetry collection Merging Star Hypotheses was published by Finishing Line Press in January, 2020.