In line at the liquor store, chuckles and mumbles behind me,
I turn, a man grinning, ducking his head, have I cut in line? And then I see
His cart is empty. He jerks his head toward me, the clerk, the world,
Words spilling but not forming into chains I know, his eyes pleading
To help it all begin, to continue what he is trying to make happen,
Pulling and pulling the start cord, hearing only the chuttering choke,
My mom in Memory Care, asking me if there’s a chicken on her bed
And I say I can’t see it, mom, and the look in her eye, the grim knowing
Her world is not how others see it, that she never went on a wedding cruise
With a Mexican family to New York City and yet she did it,
As real as the invisible book she told me she was writing about her life,
No time for my visit that day. Now scoot, she said. That same look
On his face now, the jerky unspooling of his movie, nothing to do
With liquor stores or even me, who knows what he really sees,
This man or rooster or Mexican family standing in front of him, trying not
To make eye contact, because I fear sharing that look is a contract,
A confession that his world and mine are the same, that what is happening
Happens to us both. How many neurons between us? Like that game Tetris,
The doctor told us, as our mother lay there talking to imaginary people,
Our life slowly disappears, block by block, then suddenly tumbles,
The people and places we knew, the laws we followed,
The trips we took, no more real than dreaming them. I leave the store,
See him rambling through an alley talking on a ghost phone,
Maybe for a moment that phone will fizz from his hand,
A remembered sun will arc in his eyes
Like in my mom’s one day, after an hour of her cursing and abuse,
Murder plots, I told her I had to go and her entire body shifted,
Her face rearranged and she said in a forgotten sweetness
The old script from our shared life: I love you son, tell them all hello,
Be careful going home.

(First published in Willows Wept Review #28, Spring 2023. Thanks to editor Troy Urquhart.)

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