cambridge book review

Wheel of Fortune

Norma Gay Prewett

Day I—Thursday, April 20

When 6:30 came
On that cruelly blue,
Spring-saturated day,
Mother roused enough
From her grey slumber
To watch Pat Sajak
And Vanna turn the wheel.

How “Wheel of Fortune,”
A medieval concept, fits.
In her version, there is no
Computerized touching
Of cards, but the slow,
Physical turning of Fate.
Laid up or laid down
With the bad back or
With birthing. Seven
Times seven her pain
And her joy kept turning up.

Seven times in childbed
And now we return, we
Seven, watching, hovering
Even, to deliver her.
Six identical-bellied
Daughters and one son
So like his dad we blink
And rub our eyes when
He walks in.
We watch
Her grow large again
In extremis, but with
Something else, this time,
Swelling her belly.

With fluids and the blip
And bleat of consciousness
Pumped in and out.
These contractions help
Her labor to get breath,
Not give it.

Look, her mouth opens
To nurse life from the oxygen
Bubble. Her kind, sleepy eyes,
Always the pretty hazel-bush blue,
Alight on first one birthday balloon
Of pastel face, then the other.
Perhaps our heads
Seem untethered to her, like wash
On the line that has lost a pin.
Perhaps she worries that she
Should gather us in before the storm.
We loom, perhaps, like the
Thunderheads themselves, we,
Our husbands and children.
It is just past Easter and we
Are colored eggs hidden in her room.

Day II—Friday, April 21

Her hands, square and serious,
Grasp for us—padding for milk
Of kindness the way we must have.
She feels the need to rise
And tries to say so—there
Are things to do, always early
In the morning and with all this
Company! She worries up and down—
Is the coffee pot cleaned and set on?
Further down and back, where are
The chickens? “Those raggedy
Clouds,” she’d say, “hold a lot
Of wind. There might be a twister
In them.”

I want to let her rise,
Pull her from this too-white
Bed that is not a bed—that

Needs chenille and real wood.
But we obediently tuck her hands
Beneath the sheets and so-called
Blanket. She needs quilts! Her
Mother’s quilts specifically.
We think she needs booties
Like the dozens she crocheted over
The years, enough for Afghanistan.

She works at it, would be biting
Her tongue in concentration like
Kids do if she were able, finally
Frees her leg from the strangling
Cover. Her leg, still shapely
And white, reminding me of
The stout shoes she favored.

I want to press any thing that
Has touched her to my body.
I want to be my eldest sister,
Her firstborn upon whose chest
She is finally allowed to rest.
Her fine silver head of hair
Stirring in the artificial breeze.

She does not seem lost,
But I ask her, like a schoolmarm,
If she has any questions—
And she says “no” to my relief—
What could I possibly know
That she does not now besides

Day III—Saturday, April 22

In the waiting room for the ICU
Suffering family sifts memories.
Jokes are tried, fail, fall to the
Cluttered floor.
We continue to make our human sounds.
And the crazy-quilt of jagged
Lines in the other room
Rides up (good fortune)
And flings itself down.

(The Wheel on which we are
All broken, swinging us
From the indignity of birth
To the dignity of passing.)

Day IV—Sunday, April 24

Like an awful circle of malicious
Intent, I felt, my fifty-something
Birthday I circled back to you
In bed again, finding your hand
In that way that babies follow their fists
I swung round the Earth of you,
Your moon, with your eyes, your
Smile, all the things I can’t see now.
My breathing took on your cadence
As I used to try to do when you let
Us all pile into bed with you
To protect us from thunderstorms—
I tried to match your slow inspiration,
Expiration, feeling I could will you
Back if I breathed with you.

A Ferris wheel at a strip mall
On the edge of town
Lets down a gondola seat
And two giddy teenagers
Fling themselves heedlessly,
Breathlessly, into the flickering
Night, their bodies prime—
It could be mother and father
Boots and Pancho, setting out.
Unaware that in sight from
The highest seat—
In the small, clean hospital
Someone’s mother is dying.
As the wheel spins again,
They might feel her spirit rising.

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April 1, 2010 Posted by | memoir, poetry | , , | Leave a comment