As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
Because I'd once been told what women always had done- though neverhow, or why-after you died, the last tube taken out and gone,and they offered to leave us alone, I asked if I could wash you.
The soapy water was warm, as you were, still, and soft. The basin was round.The towels and washcloths thick and white. And there was no strangeness in it,really. And I didn't cry, and that, too, was part of the wonder.
I began with one smooth, pliant arm. As once you daily must have done with me,as once you must have done at your own mother's death, I carefully dipped one cloth,and carefully wrung it, and carefully bathed the whole freckled length of your arm,
your docile hand, each finger light in its yielding.And though you had no choice in acquiescing to my love, I did notrevel in my power, but slowly lifted, washed and patted dry each limb, in turn,
your crooked toes and in between the toes; your shoulders, breasts,the secret folds between your legs, thin pubic hairs, and with a different cloth,which would have been your way, your face. [End Page 180] I took my time. I lingered in this unexpected absence of condition or demand.And when at last with nothing more to do, I sat beside your bed and tookthe hand I'd long since lost the need to hold, and laid my grownup hand inside:
Oh, familiar shape my fingers knew by heart and had forgottenthat they'd ever known. How long this total rightness had been gone.And, as leisurely as once I must have done, when simple being was enough
to please you, I let my eyes, without distraction, wander everytiny detail of your face, its astonishing calm. I saw again your chin,unguarded; saw your knuckles worn, arthritic; sang a tune that came
from who knows where: This is the hand that fed me,Hand that held me, Hand that punished me, Hand that led me.For hours, sunlight was the only thing that moved. And soon
would be gone. And your hand in mine, still warm!I stood to kiss your forehead. It was cold. But I had beenin the presence of holiness. World without end. And was done. [End Page 181]
Ingrid Wendt's books of poems include Surgeonfish, winner of the 2004 Editions Prize, The Angle of Sharpest Ascending, winner of the 2003 Yellowglen Award, Blow the Candle Out, Singing the Mozart Requiem, winner of the Oregon Book Award, and Moving the House. She co-edited the anthologies In Her Own Image: Women Working in the Arts and From Here We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poetry. Winner of the Carolyn Kizer Award and the D. H. Lawrence Fellowship, Wendt has been a three-time Fulbright professor to Germany, and guest lecturer at several international universities.