by Kathy Nelson

―after “When She Wouldn’t” by Wesley McNair

When the doctor looked her in the eye and told her
she must stop driving and she smiled at him
in that winking way she had, and by the next morning

said he’d told her to be careful when she drove, go slow,
take the back roads, and by afternoon called him

a quack. When she hissed get out of my house
and don’t come
back and held out her car key
but not the spare, which lay low under her jewelry box.

When she could no longer play more than four bars
of "Amazing Grace" but still stood with spine erect,

toes and heels together, chin clamped firm to chin rest,
elbow shoulder height, her bowing wrist as supple
as a swan’s neck. When the clock face leered at her

with its inscrutable numbers and its waving arms
and she handed it over to be set for 6 a.m. for her 7 a.m.

appointment and went to sleep, and at 2 a.m. she turned
on all the lights, frantic―her alarm had not gone off,
didn’t you say we had to leave at midnight?

When she took off her acorn of a diamond in the doctor’s
waiting room for safekeeping and never found it again―

not in her purse or pockets or in the cuff of her coat
sleeve or on the office floor or in the car or the lot―
and she grieved all over again the one who gave it to her.

When the toe of her slipper caught the carpet and she
collapsed, like a marionette whose puppetmaster

had sneezed, and could not get up. When I walked
into her hospital room and she spat out you must be
so proud, you won’t have to bother with me anymore.

When she closed her eyes and I was glad, and the nurse
came in and could not rouse her, and the stroke team

thumped her chest, pricked her shins, shook her and could
not rouse her, and the doctor called it stress response―
she did not want to deal with life―had she ever done

this kind of thing before? When I sat across the room
and watched her sleep, then watched as her blank forehead

slowly pleated, watched her slack mouth shut, watched
her peek out at me then close her eyes again.
When I said Mother, are you okay? Say something.

When she didn’t.

Kathy Nelson is the author of two chapbooks―Cattails (Main Street Rag, 2013) and Whose Names Have Slipped Away (Finishing Line Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in Asheville Poetry Review, The Cortland Review, Tar River Poetry, and other print and online journals.