Her name is Maggie Elizabeth, but
she’s Aunt Dixie to us,
a reference to her Carolina roots.
An Appalachian tide pool
still flows through her even though
she’s lived most of her life
just shy of Lake Ontario’s shores.
She’s home after spending
much of the summer in ICU.
A massive heart attack ravaged her kidneys,
her feet are swollen
like a pair of bratwursts,
and weeks against a pillow
have made a gray halo of her thinning hair.

Elizabeth eyes a Do Not Resuscitate bracelet
on her wrist as if it were a Rolex.
Hospice. Why does it sound
innocent enough to be a spice
or a native flower? Seldom spoken
until one day it’s a petulant boil
replacing words like shopping, driving, and eating.
I wonder if the glazed donut I brought was her last?
What will be the final thing she sees?
The cardinals that perch on the feeder
outside her window? The squirrel
that straddles the patio rail?
She says she missed summer.
Will there be another?
I don’t know the answer. I don’t
know what matters.
Does it matter that protesters
still march through our cities?
That fires rage in California?
Does it matter whether the geese
that plod up to her sliding glass door to peek inside
remember to fly south?

Baby Girl, the tabby that showed up
on her steps six years ago,
tussles with the tubing
from the hallway to her living room recliner.
Who thought of putting oxygen in a can
when it’s all around us?
To Baby Girl it’s another toy.
The prospect that she may be
at someone else’s door looms;
for now, she purrs blissfully unaware
in Elizabeth’s lap.
It’s only September,
but we’ll carve a pumpkin on Saturday.
If the end is the end, how can there be endings?
And how can what lasts be the last?
She hasn’t decided whether the pumpkin
should have a happy face or a scary one.

We assume there’s still time to decide.
Time. It either floats into infinity
or it’s up. But if it’s up, where did it go?
Elizabeth says she wants time to pass quickly
and if she had it to do over
she wouldn’t call 911. She says she feels tricked,
stood up by a stranger.
Now life is lived from a bed
and morphine carries days quietly into nights
where she dozes between reruns of Golden Girls
and black and white westerns.
There she dreams of walking again.
This I know matters.