Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Life and Death Manners by Janna Grace

It was all the more amazing the young mother said
that her baby sat on his hospital bed,
cooing and reaching for his plastic bracelet
because he was a man (she never went to men),
but we knew it wasn't anything special,
because Papa did that to everyone.

Hospital gowns and 6 month promises
turned to 21 paper-thin days,
leaving a deck half-painted
and a wife who didn't know how to pump the car's gas
couldn't take that something from him, in fact-
the nurses all agreed that he was simply the nicest,
that he had a Dick-van-Dyke twinkling
even when all he wanted was sleep
when we filled his room past visiting hours...

Even when they let us take chairs from down the hall and the little ones napped at the foot of his bed,
he kept his legs crooked and gave them his plastic wrapped deserts
(the only good part of the plastic wrapped platters),
and told them stories.

No, I wasn't surprised she took to him at all.

Just as I wasn't surprised when he apologized for how much he thought
he would be coughing
in the hours when his heart started to slow
and he knew his lungs would fill with the
push out.
He didn't want to inconvenience anyone when his muscles broke
down and the spit collected at the back of his throat.

They call it the death rattle, but that quiet wet rasp tip-toed around the back of his throat in one last instance of him.
Papa was always so polite and somehow stopped it
when his wife sat beside him.

He did not die until I promised to clean the moss from the cracks in the front pathway next spring

and to make sure she never gets to Empty.
Then, he did not die until she left his side.

Janna Grace lives in a half-glass barn and her work has been published in The Bitchin' Kitsch, Plastik Magazine, Cut a Long Story, and Quail Bell Magazine, among others. She teaches writing at Rutgers University and her debut novel is forthcoming with Quill Press in 2019.


  1. I do not usually weep when I read poetry. This, though...

    1. Evocative, heartwarming, moving...affirmation of a life well-lived and deeply cherished and loved.

  2. Thank you both so much! He was such a special man I was afraid to even try to do him justice, but I needed to try.