she climbs high on a rickety machine, its rusty
pipes haphazardly cobbled, and I bark into the air,
Laura, come down from there! She climbs higher.

I awake with her sleeper’s breath on my cheek,
still flushed with astonishment even after one year
together, a decade before our newborn breathes

first and last, and we wait another week to wheel
my wife back into the operating room, this time
to remove a pear-sized tumor nestling in her brain.

I squeeze her hand, hold her gaze but I am shattered.
She emerges, smiles again, grows strong and blooms.
Buoyed by stubborn optimism, she climbs higher.

A quarter century has passed, and I am comfortable
in quarantine, but Laura, sustained by ritual, bristles
when I insist that she avoid crowds to minimize risk.

A tinkle of car keys, a shudder through the walls and
she is already backing out of the driveway, already
tapping the app, gliding into a parking spot, leaning

on the table where a sign demands she wear her mask.
The wise barista reads the cup and Laura reaches out,
inserts a straw through the flimsy lid, touches her nose

as she removes her mask to suckle the frozen mocha.
Up she climbs, hands and feet on the enduring pipes
burnished by wind and sand, above my bark and time.

Rich Renner is an emerging author and the Emmy award-winning producer of a television series about education. He is a volunteer organizer of the annual Collingswood Book Festival. Rich lives with his wife and child in southern New Jersey.