My mother’s every exhale is

by Jane Mead




My mother’s every exhale is
somewhere between a rasp
and a scream now.

Hospice says they’ll bring
phenobarbital in the morning.

Between us we have
–new bottle of morphine
–the dog’s phenobarbital
–three syringes of Parry’s insulin
–methadone, Haldol, etc.

Parry and I discuss combinations.
We want the best for our mother.

We do not want
to fuck this
one up.

   — October 22, +/- 2 a.m.

 

 

 

 

 

                              ,,,
                              On the phone, my brother Whit
                              says Don’t Google it.

Notes on the Poem

Jane Mead's moving World of Made and Unmade, shortlisted for the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize, is a book-length poem reflecting on how family members cope with the final days of their matriarch. Many selections, once plucked out for concentrated consideration, stand on their own with singular, glowing intensity. This is one of them, subtle elements of which make it unforgettable. Even as Jane and her siblings grapple with the heart- and gut-wrenching mechanics of a life central to theirs needing to end, interjected snippets of the seemingly quotidian (as we've observed before) leaven the stress, grief and horror. But what appears at cursory first glance to be a mundane shopping list - laid out complete with point-form dashes and suggesting yet another goofy intrusion from the dog - is actually a lethal recipe. The lines "We do not want to fuck this one up" could be a casually profane comment about not messing up some other kind of recipe, but the tight, terse turns of lines in this short phrase convey anxiety. What to make of the date and time stamp ... is it from a text, an email message, a journal entry, call display? What is it recording, accounting for, signifying? Whatever it is, its placement on the page stamps the rest of the contents of the page with even more urgency. What punctuates the end of the page gives the entire sequence yet more tension, even as that ominous punchline draws the three siblings together. While part of a longer work, how this section is assembled creates a gripping, poignant story unto itself.

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