In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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The son sits at a table with the father
in a visiting room at the nursing home,
the two of them face to face across this round table
with a pitcher of water and two glasses between them,
and the son is saying:
I wish that you would talk to me. I hardly ever get to see you
and, you know, we don’t have much time left together.
There are so many things I want to talk with you about.
I wish so much that you would talk to me.
The father, who
is mostly deaf and somewhat blind and has palsy
and diabetes and shingles and heart failure,
does not look at the son, but looks instead at the pitcher,
and when the son is finished talking,
the father reaches for the pitcher to pour himself a glass of water,
but he is too weak to get the pitcher more than an inch or two above the table
and because he shakes he spills water on the table,
so he puts the pitcher down and the son gets up and gets a paper towel
and wipes up the water, and after he has done that
the son lifts the pitcher and pours them each a glass of water.
I wish that you would talk to me.
There are things I want to know, I need to know,
and only you can tell me. Did you ever have a lover?
Did mother? Did you ever want to leave her?
Did she ever want to leave you?
I want to know the answers to these questions.
I want to know. Why won’t you talk to me?
And the father, who has been staring at the pitcher,
looks up, looks squarely at his son,
so that the son feels like backing up,
like running away,
but instead the son says:
I bet you have a lot to talk about, a lot you’d like to say,
even though you won’t.
And the father, still staring at his son,
picks up the pitcher easily
and pours slowly
all its contents on the table.
How have you been feeling?
How are your shingles?
How are your legs and feet?
They always hurt.
Are you able to breathe any easier?
What have you been doing?
Are you watching any TV?
Are you reading?
Are you getting out?
No. They never take me out.
I wish I could see you, Poppa. . . .
I wish I could see you.
How’s the family?
We’re all fine.
I wish I could see you.
Thanks for calling.
I don’t want to hang up.
I want to talk some more.
Now he lies on a bed all day, the bed made
and he fully dressed, and
his two hands pressed together and placed
under his head against his cheek,
until the nurse comes to wake him for his meal,
whereupon he gets up and goes to eat with the others,
either walking if he feels particularly well that day
or riding in a wheelchair if he does not,
and when he has finished with his meal
he returns to his bed
and lies down again, and again
until his next meal or time to go to the bathroom,
and this is how he passes his days, his weeks, his months,
enduring the pain in his legs and feet, his diabetes,
the pain in his abdomen, his shingles,
and coughing now and then compulsively trying to expel
the liquid from his lungs, his congestive heart failure,
as he lies on his side all day as
and he is also mostly deaf so that no one can really talk to him
nor can he talk to anyone nor does he care to or want to
nor does he read or watch TV, yet
when someone comes to see him
like me for example, on those rare occasions
when I can, he will look up at me and smile
and reach out to pull me toward him
to press my face to his and kiss me and sometimes
at these moments his eyes fill with tears and I
sit down in the chair beside the bed
and stroke his hair,