Ellen Doré Watson

Life Boats

Morning radio chides a woman for wanting her dead
             hand cut off. Morning sidewalk displays
a frayed robin on its side, oh still-breathing eye-blink.
             The robin rights itself, wobbles, lists left, I
walk away. All day I scrap with money and machines,
             time trumping words, while knots needle softly
into deep aches—the forgotten body first peeking

             out, then chewing at the doorjamb, a dog who
just wants to be owned. That dusty robin was a heap
             of trying. The woman, too, begging for the knife,
certain it was time to cut the ballast free. Conventional
             but brave, my mother had no chance to choose.
Before she knew it, she was a pale turnip withering
             on the board. It made no sense to press soil gently

around her and water, but we did. Evening radio reminds me
             what I’m hankering to eat and a wispy voice wonders
Doesn’t the body deserve its rest? (People make fusses to make
             hay.) A surgeon retorts: brain dead donors are put on—
not life but—organ support, and briefly. The soul is free to go.
             I order that dish with the ground chicken and lettuce
leaves, extra hoisin. I take the doc’s side, whether or not

             we have a soul. Fund-raising is a little like barn-raising,
says the next host as I take a long look at the bridge so close
             to breaking that within the week the long way around
will crowd my days like a deadline. I pick up the takeout, head
             home to do my taxes and despair of time. The river
glitters. I try to say thanks every chance I get. I vow to wash
             my hair, think: the robin must be a goner by now. Between

the trees naked fields stake their claim, blackbirds glean. Dusk
             is a half-open door into the dozen dialects of memory.
It’s time to turn off the radio. My garage opens at the flick
             of a switch, thanks to my father, insister, installer.
Please god may his dog outlive him. For once the restaurant
             remembered the hoisin, though there are never enough
lettuce boats. I lower them gently onto the flat blue sea of my plate.