Aunt Liz’s arms are sticks, the kind poked
into a snowman. Her body, frail
as sickness, yet tough as two beers
a day, wanders toward me in the kitchen.

She teeters as if supported only by summer
light through a window above the sink.
Her wrinkled face sags,
a ninety-three-year-old mask of slack skin.

The doctor says be kind, be positive.
Day after day, I offer affectionate pats
and words that soothe the disoriented
uncoiling of her brain.

Aunt Liz blunders a step toward me.
I have just finished drying a skillet
and several forks. Her tiny stance
invites me forward into a hug.
A hug is part of the language we use
to speak to each other and to plumb
the deep sleep of her memory. I hold
her bony frame against me, make
a safe place for both of us. Contact stops
nonsense words, her lapse into paranoid
thoughts that spies in a telephone booth
across the street watch us.

I hold her, walk fingers down her back
until all doubt is gone that I am there.
Her life has been minimized
to self-administered eye drops twice a day
and a toilet lasting past noon.

Pulling slightly away, I notice tomatoes spots
dribbled onto her clean blouse during lunch.
I assess the moment, wander which of us
needs embraced the most.