Tim J. Myers
Josie’s life was small-town Iowa.
The nursing home where she now nods her life away
is only twenty miles from
the clapboard house where she was born.
We lived far away, a long hot summer trip
in the old station wagon
across the whole Midwest,
then finally the ten-acre town in corn country,
that little house by the railroad tracks,
rooms smelling of another, older world,
Victorian floral wallpaper, museum to us.
As kids we were half-intrigued, half-afraid.
Calling her Grandma
made me feel closer, but guilty too,
as if I were presuming.
She cooked for us, brought bath towels, clean sheets,
smiled a little but never said much.
We noticed how she still pronounced certain words
with a German accent, It’s about t’ree miles,
daughter of immigrants out of some lost world
we’d never imagined.
Work–that was her life. A house to keep,
family to raise, big Midwestern garden, a job,
and of course my grandfather, crippled and diabetic.
We accepted her quiet presence as children do,
she was Grandma, looked after us, that was it.
The train whistles hooted with a sad but exciting regularity,
waking us in darkness from our makeshift beds
on her living-room floor.
Outliving my other grandparents, she has come
to an unsurprising blankness,
nursing home, sleeps a lot, watches TV,
memories from her girlhood surging now and then,
her mind shuttling back and forth
from shadow to clarity.
She did her decades of endless chores, fulfilled her duties,
ate drank and slept them—little else.
Inevitably revisionist, I cry out
Grandma! What did you ever do for yourself!?
I send her birthday cards,
consider the roots of her great weariness.
She seems already to have entered
that void through which all souls must travel.