My Mother Sat By

Every day, my mother sat by
my hospital bed. She idled straight-backed
in that orange vinyl chair
with angular brown wooden arms, as we waited
for the spread of my bones to grow, pulled
muscles to heal, my split skin to mend,
skin cross-stitched with dark thread
like that pulled from her embroidery
skeins. Knitter of afghans, my mother
didn’t often do embroidery,
but this needlework was portable, perfect
for the hospital.
A hoop,
a square of cloth,
limp figure-8s of glossy thread,
needles, wooden darning mushroom
were all she needed. I spent
those weeks in a wheelchair,
warding off boredom in the children’s lounge
doing arts and crafts,
neglecting the homework
the teachers sent,
watching soaps, and waiting
to turn 10 years old,
to get released, but also waiting
for my mother to let me take a turn
with her embroidery hoop, to try
my novice hand at the delicate work,
but she was crafty in denying my requests, careful
to tuck the cloth into her bag when hospital
visiting hours were over. Each night when she rose
from her chair, a cut
in the vinyl was revealed, like a wound
that was hidden but would not heal.

One morning, she didn’t return
to her seat near my bed, because her heart
needed to heal after an attack
on her way to my room, and I was
the one left waiting
to visit her, wheeling
my chair, with my hands, no embroidery
to task on the third floor of the same hospital
where the nurses’ care and doctors’ well-honed craft
comforted, but could not craft
some miracle to heal
my mother’s heart. That summer, I learned
hospitals were places for recovery, but also
places for waiting
for death, though adults embroidered
the truth into something more tender.
That fall, I sat in my chair
during seventh grade English, staring
at the chair back in front of me, staring
at the marks etched into wood like embroidery
stitches, notches and lines that would never heal.
An interrupting knock on the door
and my father was waiting,
told me
my mother had just died in the hospital.

The picture my mother embroidered still hangs above a chair
in my father’s house, waiting like memory’s spacecraft
to fly me back to where healing never happened.

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