It seems a simple, mystical
Matter for the body to breathe
And eat, each in turn and
Separately, to take into itself
The air and energy it needs.
But my mother’s brain—cracked,
Broken, swollen, holy, burning—
Refuses to comply, to keeps its promises,
To color within the lines. Instead,
It complicates the matter, performs
Anti-miracles, so that the food
And breath become one. Aspiration
The doctors call it, when particles
Of food are taken into the lungs, invaders,
And wage war against the healthy tissue,
Besieging and starving it, until
Infection forms and spreads,
And the citadels of the body fall
One by one, systems fail,
And the breath grows ever weaker,
And near the end comes slower, labored,
and the gurgling starts, the lungs a plaguey
swamp, her eyes swimming in morphine—
2 mg every 2 hours, as needed—fighting
to truly look, see, and make meaning
of the faces floating before her, fever
rising and falling like a tide, ‘til finally
the breath ebbs, and the reservoir
empties out for good. Was it peaceful?
Was it painless? The questions asked
Are as mystical, ineffable as the systems
They seek to describe and understand.
Our bodies guide us now here, now there,
But always towards dying and away
From life, as nature pitilessly prescribes.
Who will not follow? Who will not go?
Who will not empty their pockets,
And strip off their clothes, and dive
Into the frigid pool, and swim with assured
Strokes towards the ever-deeper waters.