Summoned late at night from my bed to hers,
I stand by my unconscious mother, caressing
her limp hand, promising to stay. The hospital’s
florescent overheads cast blue, shadowless light,
while a machine pumps morphine and antibiotic
into her arm. Just yesterday, she was fine, telling
me about a CNA who promised a blanket that
never arrived, a cup of coffee too cold to drink,
and she asked me, “Am I wrong to want more?”

Now, a doctor pokes his head through the doorway
to say that with her pneumonia and sepsis, he’d be
surprised if she lasts the night. “Thanks,” I whisper,
as he closes the door, having done his work, allowing
my mother to do hers. Shallow breaths escape
her open mouth—a surprised, yet accepting O—
and her closed eyes remind me of her mother,
a Russian immigrant who arrived at last century’s
beginning, with promises a generation failed
to meet—another story for another time.

And now, I glimpse my mom’s younger self
standing in my childhood kitchen, fussing over
a salad and a casserole as I set the table on this,
a school night. Already, I’m mourning—memories
arrive like incoming waves: my mom’s full embrace,
a goodbye kiss blown to me as I leave the house.
“Oh, Mom,” I say in the Zen of this white hospital
room, “Where are you going?” But as I look at her,
the ancestors have gathered, their spirits emptying
her breath, transforming her face into a stranger’s
face, with its deep map of wrinkles, a tangle
of directions, which I bend to kiss, offering
my love as her final destination.