"Finish This"

"Finish This"

"Finish This"

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A weekly poem, read by the author.
Feb. 12 2002 4:54 PM

Finish This

To listen to Mark Cox reading "Finish This," click here.

When gram died, her last act
was to hand back a dixie cup
half trembling with water
as if to say, "here, finish this."
My mother took it, separating the fingers,
thin and glossy with illness,
then guiding the whole arm down
to its place across her chest.
I was on the other side,
the hospital bed rail
pushing one cool shirt button into me
as if I were a doorbell. "I'm out here,"
Death was saying, "You don't have a lot of time,
you coming or not?"
The railing gave a little, sideways,
and since there was nothing left
but those most accidental of sounds—
the involuntary frictions of left/right,
up/down, in/out,
the sound of a loose tire iron
in the back of a pick-up,
of two emaciated swords
meeting farther and farther away—
that final letting go of the guard
by which all week she had pulled herself up toward me,
was a release into silence, a recognition
of the true completeness of every gesture.
And having relayed to me that dry, barely tangible kiss,
she could stop now, thereby seeming calmly to recede.
Outside, the cold white ashes of eons
piled high against the curbs
and Death leaned on his shovel
near a narrow, heavily salted path into underground parking,
and the car stalled,
and it seemed for a moment,
the past so completely with me, so heavy and sodden,
I'd never turn the key again.
That was when I remembered the dixie cup,
the pale purple lilacs ringing its lip,
and how my mother raised it like a shot glass to her own mouth
then chose merely to sip.

Mark Cox chairs the Creative Writing Department at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington and teaches in the MFA in Writing Program of Vermont College. His latest book is Thirty-Seven Years From the Stone.