by Cait West
This is your hand—dried, cracked, bleeding on a January day under a muted sun. At rest on your book, it twitches in sleep, and your glasses have fallen down your nose as you lie stretched out on the floor, too busy to sit on the sofa. You’re too impatient to rest, but your body has taken over anyway in this forced sleep while reading. It’s just like when I was a child, and you would fall asleep while quizzing me on my phonics. You would make up stories in your sleep, and I would crouch down next to your open mouth and wait for the words to whisper out.
These are your knees—arthritic, slow, painful as you bend, painful as you stand. You walk up the hill anyway, looking for a sunset. But you stoop low, finding the seedlings of a plant you do not yet have in your overflowing garden. This is Hedychium coronarium; some even call it a roadside weed, but you call it white ginger. There’s only a leaf or two, and they look almost dead, rootless. You call these your “little shoots,” and you know that when you push them in dirt and give them water, they will flourish, white buds leafing out their late evening perfume, fragrant in the late sun.
This is your lower back, curving more with each day. You press your hands to it, holding yourself up, supporting your spine. It has borne the weight of children, birthed and miscarried, years of standing in storms. I don’t remember, of course, but you tell me you were happiest when pregnant, waiting for life. Now, decades later, your back is relieved of its burden and bears only the rest of you.
These are your eyes—picking out the shimmer of a shell on the beach, spotting the fin of a manta ray near the reef, but failing to pick apart words on a page without your glasses. You used to have me read my schoolwork to you in the car while you drove, keeping your sight on the road. You made sure I got my nature book each year, and we read a story a day, about woodland deer or the travels of ladybugs or squirrels and oak trees. You pointed out the forest as we drove, the way the leaves dappled in sunlight; you gave me the hills and the cool creeks. You made me look.
This is your voice—telling over again the stories of our generations, repeating words, passing down the myth. Of great uncle Carl who drank lye thinking it was buttermilk. Of sharecroppers in tobacco fields. Of cousins roller-skating on rickety porches. Of drive-in theaters and elopement: the romance of your teenage parents. Of poverty and not knowing it was poverty.
And this is your voice—crackling on a long-distance phone line, talking me home as I drive the long stretch of farmland in the night, trying not to be blinded by the beams of passing cars across the median.
Cait West has lived in many places, including Colorado and Hawai`i, and she studied creative writing at Michigan State University. Her work has appeared in Nota Bene, Old Northwest Review, The 3288 Review, Dunes Review, and Fourth Genre. She writes about her journey out of the stay-at-home daughter movement at caitwest.com, and she currently works in publishing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.