Open Verse

Poetry Death of a Friend

Linda Gallant Potts's image for:
"Poetry Death of a Friend"
Image by: 

Annie's Tapestry

The shrill ring of the phone
slices through the quiet,
and Glen's sombre voice
roots me to the ground
like a thousand grasping vines.
"Annie is gone."
His words echo
in my head.

Later, dread in each step,
we woodenly approach his tiny home,
a link in a chain
of seniors' empty nests.
Identical to those left and right,
the pain is still contained,
not yet bleeding
through the peach-coloured brick
nor obliterating the "welcome"
in the sign that hangs.

A trancelike knock
beckons our old English friend.
Shadow of the man, arms wide,
he accepts a long embrace,
then ushers us into his haven of anguish,
where classical music plays faintly,
and lights stay dimmed.

To unspoken questions
he begins to speak of Annie;
her torturous decline,
the agony of his helplessness.
Sometimes he falters.
He struggles to breathe evenly,
as tells us, in disbelief,
that her first thought was of him.

"But what will become of you, Glen?" she had asked.

Her question now hangs in the air
like a mourner's veil.

Eyes raw, voice breaking,
he mechanically repeats her words.
He is puzzled,
unable to comprehend
her bravery, the selflessness
of facing her own death
but fearing for him.

Time has stopped for we
who have been flash-frozen
by death's hand.
Reality eludes and we sit captured
like the intricate tapestries
that hang on his living room walls;
months of painstaking needlepoint stitches
to remind Annie of her homeland.

She is gone
but she is everywhere.

Glistening cabinets
boast crystal birds
and delicate china ladies
certainly they've just been dusted?
An ever-present candy dish,
ready to entice
newly replenished?
Proud homemaker,
perfect hostess
even now.

On the bathroom shelf,
favorite perfumes await,
perfectly aligned.
Her open cosmetics bag,
still lies gently upon the hand towel
perhaps just used?

Atop the polished bedroom dresser,
precious rings lay scattered
on a small crystal tray;
and in the corner,
old silver-framed photographs
are arranged with care.
Our family from a simpler time,
our scrubbed young sons in suits;
no family of her own
to reminisce or mourn.

Glen rises.
Says he feels such thirst
and opens the refrigerator.
He asks, "Do you like yogourt?"
Annie's yogourt, her last attempt to eat,
sits stacked atop the shelf.
"Please take some home," he says.
But instead I stare
at the open door
where fuzzy fridge magnets still reside;
hours of amusement for my children
so very long ago.

We are marionettes
suspended in an eternity;
reading from a foreign script;
searching for understanding;
clutching threads of normalcy.

"I would try to make her a shake,"
Glen continues.
"Yogourt and ice cream
and maybe some fruit.
Mix it all in the blender.
She liked that."
Then he reaches for a tissue
to dry fresh tears.

And I am like stone,
sitting across from him
in a straight-backed chair.
I should reach out,
do something to help
slow the shudder in his voice.
But instead see,
from the corner of my eye,
a small picture of a young Annie,
hand on jaunty hip.
Tears rise at the flashed vision of her spirit
and I watch as my husband
tentatively touches
his old friend's shoulder.
He asks "Have you eaten?
Are you hungry?"
A question out of place,
a surreal response.

"I think I'd like a pizza.
There's a Pizza Hut nearby
where Annie and I often go."
Then he shows us the new leather jacket
Annie insisted he buy for himself
this past Christmas,
mere weeks ago.

And I think how strange
to discuss the merits
of cowhide over lambskin
when life has been so altered;
to debate thick crust over thin,
to need to eat,
to dine amidst smiling faces,
and have no stranger recoil
from the shock and grief
that is worn like a cloak.

The drive back is dreamlike,
our talk of mutual friends,
innocent memories amidst
flashes of Glen's disjointed thoughts:
"Must close some old bank accounts.
Have to write to Germany
about Annie's pension.
Must see about Annie's jewelry."
Then, "They'll make me move
to a smaller unit soon."

And before
we can say any
of countless words
we want to say,
should say,
we are back
where death is too familiar,
returning Glen to his home of memories.

At his doorstep,
our solitary friend,
collar turned up against the cold,
a leftover pizza box
clutched in one hand,
waves a faint good-bye.

It has grown late, and
our long drive home is thick
with silent memories
of how fate first drew them together
so many years ago.
Glen, then newly single at mid-life,
Annie, so needing to love
her mischievous eyes,
the throaty laugh,
her bravado in facing illness and age,
her delight in the simplest
of life's pleasures,
and her greatest joy:
her years spent as Glen's wife.

And Annie's question
haunts me
as we journey home that night.

Just what will become of him?

Dedicated to the memory of Annie S., 1928-2002

More about this author: Linda Gallant Potts

From Around the Web