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What I've Been Meaning to Say—Seven Years On

Carolyn Smart
From:   Stoning the Moon. Ottawa: Oberon Press, 1986.

I don't remember driving to the hospital that night,
I guess Larry must have picked us up in his black car
and we drove down Mount Pleasant under the sign
that says Cancer Can Be Beaten at that time of the year,
I remember other things like the forms I signed
and the room we sat waiting in, I don't know what
we were waiting for and then someone said Do you want
to view the body and though I'd never thought about it,
perhaps that's what I did, I said Yes, yes,
they asked me did I know what I was doing, I said Yes,
I tried to shrug them off me, it felt like
they wanted to hold me back from the rest of my life,
I walked through the ICU with the blood beating
in my throat and in my fingers, my friend walked with me
though I never asked him to be there, somehow I never
wanted anyone there, and we walked into the room,
I could see her face before we walked in, she was covered
by a sheet up to her nose, I knew she was dead yes but
I didn't know it would be like that, like she'd never
been in her body, like whoever she'd been all the years
that made up her life it had all gone somewhere else,
I thought this is what afterlife means, even the skin
was breakable, the hair was dry, I put out my hand
and touched her forehead and the sheet fell away,
her mouth was open and her teeth, her bottom teeth,
which were just like mine looked like an animal's teeth,
they were misshapen and yellow, even her teeth looked old
and she wasn't old she was 58 lying there, I'd never seen
death before but this was it I knew it, it all smelled
like death, I wanted to know what it was like when she
died, I wanted to know where she'd gone, I wanted to ask
questions like where is she, I still ask them seven years
later as I put up her photograph for the first time,
feeling like I'm leaving that room behind at last,
opening the door and walking out into fresh air.

Carolyn Smart's works copyright © to the author.

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