She awoke this morning,
Ninety years-old, to
Sunlight flooding
Her sterile room in
This pay-by-day prison,
This halfway house
Between existence and
The slow crush of time.

Remnants of dreams were
Scattered beneath the
Squeaking wheels of the
Breakfast cart, as the
Orderly entered,
Bearing a meal of
Juice, toast and eggs—and
A thin slice of cake.

The nurse soon followed;
Together they sang,
“Happy Birthday to You”
In a dull monotone,
While her vitals were checked,
Medication dispensed,
In a meaningless ritual,
A reticent dance.

And as she listened,
Not listening at all,
She cast her mind
Across deep seas
Of her past, ensnaring
Memories, faded and
Curled at the corners
Like photographs lost:

Of childhood summers—
Bare feet following
Dusty trails,
Flower-lined and
Leading to the
Immutable freedom of
Endless days and
Infinite nights;

Of love’s permanence—
Forged through years,
The bond of the soul and
The pleasure of flesh
Leading to the
Immutable force of
Moments shared and
The loneliest grief.

Of family’s embrace—
The music of laughter
In children’s eyes;
The path of the blood
Leading to the
Immutable pain of
Progeny lost to
The shadows of time and
The motion of life.

As they finished the song
Behind insincere smiles
And turned to resume
Their daily routine,
With the frailest of hands,
She raised a toast to
Two perfect strangers and
A roomful of ghosts.

This poem originally appeared in the 2009 collection Sixty-Six.