Aunt Carrie used to sit in a beach chair
On top of the world near the Jerome Park Reservoir
And tell the building ladies about her heyday
As the bookkeeper of the Communist party
And her brilliant husband Paul,
A fighter in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.
We would call her on the phone to check in:
How are you Carrie?
96 and I’m not dead yet.
How are your sons?
If we come by on Saturday would you like us to bring you anything?
My teeth fell out and the dentist’s a shmuck.
We would visit her with a brunch feast:
Why do you leave your socks on, Carrie?
They’re the only thing holding my flaky skin in place.
Have you ever thought of writing a book about getting old?
I have arthritis in my wrist, I can’t do that.
Have you been watching the Republican debates?
Sons of bitches.
We had gone to visit her in the ICU of the Allen Pavillion,
Seen her swollen, rubbery, purple flesh
Hanging loose on invisible bone.
Her mouth gaping from the Ativan they had administered
Because she was aggravated.
(If only they knew her).
I saw her green iris move a fraction of a millimeter,
To meet mine as I told her about camp:
The place she had spent the happiest days of her life,
And I had spent mine.
I was too afraid to touch her translucent scalp
Too afraid, even, to sing.
I could only hum:
But the banks are made of marble,
With a guard at every door,
And the vaults are stuffed with silver,
That the people sweated for.
Too afraid to notice that her scratched chest
Had stopped heaving.
They pulled the mustard yellow curtain,
Stripped the tubes and wires from her face.
I had never seen life pass,
But hers left a glow in the fluorescent room,
And it was the most extraordinary thing
That wasn’t beautiful.
Aunt Carrie lay pale in a swaddle of sheets,
Shayla Partridge, Age 17, Grade 12, Hunter College High School, Silver Key