Visiting Nannie at Mayview

by Gibbons Ruark

The door swings to behind me and I smell,

Among thick vapors from the hidden bedpan,

The roses and the rubbing alcohol.

You lie propped up on a pillow. The fan

Whirrs slowly as you blink your eyes and stare

At my wife and daughter. Surely you can

Recognize me, it was only last year . . .

You want to hold the baby, hold her as

You held me, held my father, but now your

Limbs are wasted and you shudder when we ease

Her onto your lap. When you start to sing

The room dissolves in my wavering eyes

To the room on Jarvis Street where you bring

Vanilla cookies till I’m fast asleep.

Morning comes and I listen as you ring

Up the drugstore for a gallon of deep

Chocolate ice cream and a quart of milk.

In the afternoon we loll on the steep

Back yard and watch the tennis match, or walk

St. Mary’s Street to catch the downtown bus.

When you start singing I don’t want to talk . . .

What is it you’re singing? You stare at us.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide

Myself in Thee. Let the . . .Your chin drops as

You sink to sleep. The nurse leads us outside

Into the daylight and uneasy laughter.

Dear Nannie, I leave you drying in your bed

Like a bent straw fallen out of water,

Driving east through Raleigh with my strange wife

Holding in her arms my stranger daughter.