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SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

A Different Conversation

by Stephen Gold

“In some families, please is described as the magic word. In our house, however, it was sorry.”

—Margaret Laurence [*]

I stand by her bedside   a dutiful son   pretending to care
hate every second of this torturous charade   Get me
outta here   I want to scream

Agitated   you stare up at strangers   It’s me Ma   Stephen
I could just as easily be The Man in the Moon   her face
twitches to the beat of brain cells snapping away

It’s unnecessary to touch you   I convince myself   it would
only frighten   but who more   you or me   moans spill from
adjacent rooms   cries of anguish   pleas for help

Fumes waft in    mealtime   puréed gray and orange matter
pabulum piled high on cafeteria-style silver trays served by
white-smocked   perpetually harried Filipino orderlies

I gag at the smell   Please God get me out of here   Die already
I shamefully wish   hate myself for being so callous   cruel
Is this payback for being such a shitty son

Had a great conversation with your mom   the hospice nurse
smiles   as if offering sweets to a stubborn   petulant child
She can’t talk   I curtly rebuke   hasn’t in months

It’s a different kind of conversation   without expectations
she offers   I stiffen like a frozen rope   blink away the
invitation to soften   But she can’t talk   I repeat   not willing
to budge even an inch

It’s not your fault   the nurse whispers   I try not to cry


—Selected for Honorable Mention in the competition for the Steve Kowit Poetry Prize 2016, and first published in the San Diego Poetry Annual 2016-17 (Garden Oak Press, February 2017); appears here with permissions from both poet and publisher.


[* Quotation is by the narrator Vanessa in the title story from A Bird in the House, by Margaret Laurence (University of Chicago Press, 1993).]

SHJ Issue 16
Spring 2017

Stephen Gold

spent most of his life helping people deal with their emotional well-being. He holds a doctorate in psychology and practiced for many, many years. Now retired, he lives in Carlsbad, California and writes poetry. His poems are anthologized in San Diego Poetry Annual and Magee Park Poets.

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury