I FINALLY GIVE BACK
Soft sobs might have been missed if anyone else
was in the bathroom. Eavesdropping
with the illusion of concern, I peek under the stall,
see an aluminum walking cane's feet.
This feels like a college dormitory bathroom,
one where I might walk in on a weeping girl,
but Twilight Zone-ish.
"Need any toilet paper?" I finally ask.
I wipe, stand, zip and wait for a response that's
a long time coming. Washing my hands, I hear,
"Please, yes, I need help. I can't
reach my bag on the door's hook."
Puzzled—who wouldn't risk a little dribble to get it?
But then, haven't I had such snafus before?
I reach over the stall and lift a bulky bag to me.
"Should I slide it to you under the door?"
"No," she says, "I can't bend to reach it."
I say, "Could you tell me the thing you need
—and I could hand it to you under the stall wall?"
I feel clever.
She doesn't reply right away. "I guess," she says,
"that's the best way to go about it."
I move into the neighboring stall, "What do you need?"
She sounds defeated when she asks me to unzip it
and collect one of the incontinence briefs from the pocket
with the zipper. I try to be unceremonious,
so she won't redden—the white rectangle disappears quickly.
"I'll just—" I stop. I cradle her bag by the sinks.
When she swings open her door, cane in hand, she looks proud,
as if she readjusted her spirit when she wrestled with her diaper.
She looks me up and down. "Thank you," she says
and leans her cane against the sink's lip while she washes her hands.
"You know," she says, watching bubbles slide into the drain,
"it's a bitch." I don't reply.
She wouldn't hear me over the motor and wind
of the hand drying machine.
I smile and hand her bag to her as she turns
to walk three legged from the small room.
"Sometimes, you hate your body," she says in retreat.
"Sometimes, you want to kiss every part."
* * *
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
This ornate golden dragon's head,
the glass flask hidden inside its wooden shaft,
isn't the cane Grandpa used most often
after his knees' parts were re-engineered
with metal and plastic, but the one given to him
as a gift—half joke—willed to Dad.
I'm just graduated from crutches, home on holiday,
and I fit the dragon in my palm.
Cold, short like the fireplace poker, it bites:
I know why Grandpa rejected it
—his great hands could smother my own.
My brown cane, bought at a medical supply store
Try as I might, I cannot conjure his daily cane
in a southern Illinois strip mall, has a candy-cane arc
nearly at my hip, a sturdy third leg, utilitarian,
not flashy, a necessity when balance is fragile.
I reject the ill-fitting, cold head, lean it against the hearth,
picture it nestled with other novelty canes at Grandpa's home
—gifts from people who've not yet needed a prop.
—was it aluminum or wood—the third appendage
that lent him swagger to my school plays, ballet recitals,
midnight church services in Decatur, the dinner table
my Grandma set—it remains translucent in my mind
when I picture him, like the exact hue of denim
he liked to wear, the twangy song playing
on the bathroom radio, the L'Amour or McMurtry title
that sat near his recliner.
The details fade like snowflakes on the panes tonight,
but when I feel my cane's heft, its smooth curve pressed
into my palm, I remember his grace, the affectionate poke
he gave Grandma's bottom when she served dinner,
the grip of his hand when we played later
while dishes were cleared: he'd grab my fist
and I'd pull and pull to let go
and he'd laugh until his fingers sprang open,
catching me, always catching me, before I fell.