The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

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NOV 2020 Issue


airplane crash
     near the doll’s head

to feel the length of her body again
as I lifting   when she bent her bending

No compass  needing  on sidewalks
We don’t have    nowhere to go

scarlett witches   did I have a father no
nobody there   we just walk  handfuls of
ditch lilies clouds thin as stitches   whose
mariposa tulip    neon hedgehog cactus

chiaroscuro cold case  spits warm water  hair
barbered in a boy’s cut   she wore her brother’s
hand me downs       of flesh
where once these toothpick arms
buried a face in a horse’s mane  I am her secrets now

fling two windows wide to a vast crystal dark
to the Butterfly Nebula  3,800 light-years away
jets & gas bubbles peel off its stars stellar winds
slam its nebula     her chaos  “I’m a mess! why
don’t I get better?”

face cream
pillow pile

ice water

bedside science stories

   “Once upon a time, there was a rainforest
      near the bottom of the world...”

billionaires don’t care if we like them


that body that
her mouth made   a sound like a siren
way off   in the distance

times between her needing me abbreviate
I could just go into the kitchen  soap a sponge
begin to scour around a burner   3 to 4 minutes
& her voice   would be calling me
I’d go see what she needed return & wash the
second burner    her call
when back I’d scrub the 3rd
some nights I’d take items out of utility & silverware drawers
lave out & lay clean wax paper then replace each spatula
corkscrew cooking fork ladle slotted spoon can opener
beer pick  back in exquisite index     or
select a particular fridge shelf  set everything off   discard
old leftovers rinse the shelf & organize replaced items in status
of height  I’d plan for the brief vain intervals
moving quickly working in stages

I become her human pack mule

preparation for a walk around the lake  the park  the block

her tan safari jacket
kleenex in the pockets
sunscreen applied
Rio 2016 Olympics visor cap
or brimmed lavender hat
warm gloves
ice in water bottle
light long-sleeved shirt
sun glasses
cough drops
her cane

occasionally  among the starry bedclothes
    flurries shifting  Minnesota fence lines

“I’ve got a problem my rosary’s gone I can’t find it.”
We hunt sheets  & pillows undersides

“Oh wait No, no, it’s ok we put it in the case
it’s right here on the night stand.”

rub my back   rub my toes   rub my forehead

caregiver’s log Saturday 8.17.19

So hard to believe I arrived back in Truckee just over a week ago. A week of crisis, doctor visits,
oxygen tanks, prescription pill changes, and lovely visits from neighbor’s and mom’s dear
lifelong, well, Truckee long, friends.

We went to the doctor early Wednesday. Doctor increased Lasix to twice a day, 40 mg each.
Went over labs, oxygen use. I got in trouble for not giving mom sufficient Lasix. I, fearing for
her kidneys. The doctor, fearing for her heart.

Thursday Erin came and cleaned. Meals on Wheels for mom’s lunch. I do laundry. Diana drives
us to hospital for mom’s lab work and stays to visit.

Friday, our right hand helper, Jacki, drives us to our appointment with the doctor to check kidney
function. Kidneys holding their own, but when checking mom’s oxygen level the oximeter won’t
register a reading. Finally it appears to work, but the number is ridiculously low. “This is not
enough oxygen to sustain life!” the doctor alarms. Jacki and I look at each other and then at
mom. “Yet she lives!” we proclaim in unison to the doctor. Doctor C. says mom has to go back
into the hospital. “Oh No!” Jacki, mom, and I shout in unison. We argue that the oximeter often
doesn’t function on mom because of her Atrial Fibrillation. We all plead. Mom refusing to go
back into the hospital. Finally we are able to warm mom’s fingers enough for a reading of 88,
which is not great, but the doctor is willing to let her come home if we keep her on oxygen all the
time and stay on the Lasix morning and evening, 40mg. And we’ll need to do labs before our
next appointment on Monday! to check her vitals again.

Later at home Julie, Kapra and Kedric, best next door neighbors for forever, drop in to visit.

She had worked as a Timekeeper for the Titan I & Titan II missiles
   a woman  never allowed in the underground silo office

Nights  are the hardest

She won’t get ready for bed before 9:30 (& it takes about an hour and a half)
I take off her oxygen nose piece
Help her stand at sink
Prepare her toothbrush with fennel toothpaste
(not spearmint not peppermint!)
adjust water faucet
she brushes her teeth for 15 minutes or more
So Long!
Readjust water temperature & ready her washcloth w/soap
(only Dove will do!)
stand by hold her up
towel hand off
she’s exhausted & sits in hall chair to rest
I pull off her tight leg wrap stockings and shoes & put on wooly slippers

help her take off clothes & with PJs
walk her to bed
I rub lotion on her back and arms

Build her extra pillows tower
Turn her covers back
step stool & much scooting and lifting to upright position against the pillows
the effort wears her out
Now she can’t breathe needs air  “need air! Quick! Now!”
I arrange oxygen apparatus on her nose turn on oxygen compressor
It’s loud a deep bass thud
she thinks she hears someone walking downstairs
I explain it’s the compressor pumping intervals
its intermittent thud like spaced foot falls
together we position another pillow under her legs to lessen the edema
and slide a towel under to soak up their weeping
I rub lavender oil on her ankles and the bottoms of her feet  slowly & long
“How do they look? How swollen?” she asks of the edema
“Do we have to wrap them for the night?” I always say “no,
just during the day.” She is always relieved.
She would refer to the compression stockings as the torture socks
“Try to relax,” I suggest. But she has a hard time doing that at night.
I put ice cubes in her water bottle in the kitchen. When I set it on her nightstand
She checks “Is it cold!”   “Yes, I put ice in it.”
I hand her her face cream
her rosary & case
her chapstick her toothpick
Plug in her cell phone to recharge
Kleenex near to reach
Fold blanket so she can reach & pull it up later in the cooling night
snap on the nightlights
“Is the window open?”
I can’t feel any air.”
“It’s wide open.”
“Is the door open all the way?”
“Sure is.”
“Is the fan on?”
“There’s no air in here.”
“Close your mouth and breathe through your nose to get the oxygen.”
“Is the hall light on?”
“Is the bathroom light on?”
“I’ll check back in when you’re finished praying,” I say.   I’m so tired.

“Can’t you just sit awhile now?”

“uh sure, I can do that.”

there are four pillows w/cases
a white one
2 pinkish mauve
one a dark navy w/2 thin red satin ribbons sewn near the bottom opening

or   she   “what cell am I in?

             I’m in jail!”

“Please somebody help me
I can’t get up
Get me out of here
Get me up get me up
Let me out of here
Please somebody help
I can’t take it”

Is it bed or body she rails against?

the edema causes her legs to weep continuously
always wet towels & wrappings soggy
she rips at her pjs
pulling covers & clothes off her body

What comfort am I calming soothing
reassuring the lights are on the windows

At dawn she falls asleep

tu da lu Buckeroo
   a dust-up

Having gotten her all set for the night
I make up my couch bed  check her again
say goodnight and a kiss on forehead again
fall into sleep in my bed only to hear
about an hour later her calling me
I lurch up   flurry into her bedroom
“Maureen where are you? Aren’t you coming in
one more time to say goodnight?”
“I did already”
“No you didn’t”
“Yes remember I ”
“No you didn’t come in”

I retuck her into the covers

“What were you doing? Didn’t you hear me calling?”
“I was sleeping   I was sound asleep”

With company she’s engaged no need
of oxygen     delighted in conversation
She navigates the stairs & eats without complaint

“Air I need air!” pulling on her blouse
I switch on the ceiling fan  open the
front door   push up 2 windows wide dial
swamp cooler blower to full blast
“I can’t feel any air!” she’s loud with gathering
agitation  I roll the swamp cooler closer to her
kleenexes twirl upward from their box magazines
rustle & blow open  the curtains ripple
“Do you feel air now?”
“Yes, yes, I can feel a little now  it’s only blowing
on my arms though  on my legs I need it up here
she gestures to her face

I hammer down a nail in the floor that overtime
has crept up
“What are you doing pounding?”
“A little nail head was sticking up.”
“How do you know it was sticking up?”
“I could see it.”
“Oh, and you couldn’t see it before?”


Maureen Owen

Maureen Owen’s latest title Edges of Water is available from Chax Press. She can be found reading her work on the PennSound website. Her recent Poets on the Road tour with Barbara Henning is available at


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2020

All Issues