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When I get to the hospital I see that someone has sent my grandmother a big bouquet of pink roses and the card reads: Welcome. Nana laughs and sticks the card on her morphine pump. She will only eat coffee ice cream with caramel sauce from Baskin and Robbins, which I run out to get for her from the shop on 66thand First. While she eats she tells me about her grandmother, Bertha Lauber, who was such a fanatic about dust that she stuffed tissue in the keyholes before leaving her beach house at the end of the summer. She also wrapped the phones in newspaper, and it had to be the issue from that morning, as it was the cleanest.
After 4 days of not moving her bowels, Nana moves her bowels, and everyone is very pleased. I tell her they put a sign on her door— She Moved Her Bowels. Nana laughs and then my uncle comes in and asks what all the commotion is about. Nana says, Go read the sign. They wheel her away for radiation. When she comes back all she says for the rest of the day is Drip it up, sip it up.
Are you used to being around Jews? Nana wants to know. Ok, ok, I’ll tell the story of how I met my Jew. He was not supposed to be drinking gin. We were only 16. I had long dark hair all the way down my back and my sister Patsy would braid it in twin strands and then coil it around my head as was the fashion at that time. Your grandfather came up to me at a party. He was already very drunk, and he said, “Why do you have that rope around your head? Do you think you are a challah?” Nana is laughing so hard she bumps her face into mine. We look up and see Pop standing in the door, shy to enter the room. He is dressed up with a brown tweed vest under his suit coat and a light blue silk scarf folded in his chest pocket, but there is mustard crusted on his lapel. His gray hair sticks straight up, and Nana says, O Bobby O Bobby O Bobby.
When Nana leaves her room at the cancer center to go home, my uncle asks an attendant to donate the leftover cases of Ensure nutritional drink to other patients in the ward. While we are pulling away we see the attendant putting the cases of Ensure in the trunk of his car. Nana starts to laugh uncontrollably and the morphine drip dislodges from her arm, the liquid morphine leaking all over the front seat. She mops it up with a few tissues and squeezes the small amount of liquid onto her tongue.
Nana is in her bed, the twin bed on the right, which is pushed next to Pop’s bed, the twin bed on the left. They are made up as they always are, with elegantly printed floral cotton sheets and the butter yellow monogramed blanket covers with white lace trim. She stopped talking a few days ago, and is flat on her back with her head propped up on two white pillows. Her face is an ashen blue. Pop puts on a freshly pressed pair of pajamas and goes to sleep next to her. I tuck myself into the seam between the two beds, like I used to do when I was a child, and rest a hand on Nana’s chest, which is cornflower blue, and rises and falls weakly. She is so thin, each rib looks like a finger trying to poke through her papery skin. I place her fingertips in my hair and can almost feel them flutter like butterflies against my scalp. I lay my head on the small hill of her collarbone and imagine her tickling my back the way she’s done all my life, with the smooth ends of her nails. I want to stay like this until she dies. I want to feel what happens to her body when her heartbeat stops, and then it does, and she dies. And her hands float up. And they graze my cheeks.
Elizabeth Jacobson’s second book, Not into the Blossoms and Not into the Air, won the New Measure Poetry Prize, selected by Marianne Boruch. (c) 2019 by Parlor Press. Used with permission.