November 18, 1978
Look at him, Nana said.
She gestured to Papa in the bedroom
All day he’s talking to the relatives
asking to forgive, says he loves everyone. Tutti.
Then he makes all the prayers, over and over
in Italian, English, again Italian.
Madonna mia! her eyes and hands raised
She’s certain the stroke
made him this way: sees things
talks to ghosts
clutches my wrists when I visit
his wolf eyes warning danger
fills his wallet with canceled checks
dons a wool overcoat, fedora
insists on the car keys.
She couldn’t know he was preparing
still strong and willful.
And though he was ready, or thought so
he fought for that last breath
tried like hell to wrestle it back.
December 25, 1987
That last Christmas she was translucent;
her gray hair matched the ashen white of once
brown eyes as if an inner pyre had burned
away color and form.
She hardly tasted the stuffed artichokes
or lasagna I’d made the way she taught me.
Opened with floating fingers, absent of touch
gifts she wouldn’t need, smiled beyond
a five-sense dimension.
After dinner, the table spread with fruit
nuts, pastries, espresso, her ricotta pie
I asked how it was at the elder home.
Did she like it, meet new friends?
Her eyes cleared, hands raised
in a così così gesture.
It’s okay, she said. Not too bad.
But the kids, they run under my bed
every night, make such a noise
I can’t sleep.
She paused, brightened.
But then Papa comes, she said
of her husband gone nine years.
He tells me it’s all right, not to worry.
She searched my face for belief.
I took her hands, her ageless silk
and said, Good Nana, good.
I’m so glad Papa is there with you.
Not to worry.
Eleven Days Later
Midnight and snowfall
down to the foyer
through the unlocked door
out to floorboards cushioned white
too cold to creak.
A pink night dress billowed and rippled
billowed and rested above
footfalls that tiptoed the walkway
veered left into an open field
imprinted and swept the white
imprinted and swept
a crocheted path to center
to a pause where
and layered, furring
ankles, shins, thighs, warming
bones to fingers reaching outward
’round and ’round
another and another
of concentric rings
snowflake lace and loops
in and in
in and down
in and down and around
until she curled into white fleece
sleeps in cool spaces
stirs and pulls sheets, exposes a nakedness
when we were lovers.
Time imposes separation, forgets.
But the past, comfortable in interstices
dreams with ease, spins in the soft blur of the ceiling fan.
I roll into your neck, taste again satin skin
find our scent and edge closer
until a cluster of child’s toys scratches my thighs:
a plastic hammer, sandbox shovels, a doll.
On the flight
mother and child opposite me, the daughter
a new butterfly unfurling in her mother’s lap
fingers forming words, reaching to plant them
in mother’s full lips
the two of them unfurling in their rapture.
I couldn’t look away, stop the want.
Told you, breathless
barely through the gate: A child?
After the project, you said, when it’s finished.
Catherine Arra lives in upstate New York. A former English and writing teacher, her recent poetry and prose appear or are forthcoming in The Timberline Review, Boston Literary Magazine, The Naugatuck River Review, Gloom Cupboard, Peacock Journal and Sugared Water. Her chapbooks are:
Slamming & Splitting (Red Ochre Press, 2014) and Loving from the Backbone (Flutter Press, 2015).