He tips to the thermostat, adjusts
it to heat the house before
she awakens, decides what to make
for the first of four meals
he’ll prepare that day.
An alarm only he can hear
summons, and he’s by her bed,
rolling the insulin vial between
his hands like a lemon, warming
the clear fluid before she’s allowed
to inject it. He hovers until the last
spot of drawn blood is wiped away.
I watch him wire himself to her
piece by piece, give her a dose
of something at three-hour intervals
until the pain she can’t recount is his,
until her oxygen-starved breath
has him fighting for his own, until
he’s a self sacrificed—never mind
that he wrestled death for 5 long
months, pinned it just last year. “Relax,”
I plead, “Beck and call is your order, Dad,
not the doctor’s.” “I’m not an invalid,
James,” Mama assures. He won’t
loosen the wires, only knows how
to tighten them, ensure his snap
to her every move—doesn’t see
his heart wink, fool him that he can
fix her. I believe no less when mine
signals the same, tells me I can fix
him, bring back the foot stomping
in his full-bodied laughter, the fun
Dad I once knew.
“Let me do it,” he protests, his voice
calling up mine at six, learning to do
something hard, knowing I need help,
but turning it away until I break.
Carolyn Joyner is a DC-based poet and writer.