Ain’t Got Time To Die

by Christine Potter
The Waters
Honorable Mention, December 2019
Judged by Laurie Byro

The hospice nurse tells us things have changed now we’re aboard
whatever it is she drives so confidently; blood pressure isn’t really

relevant, or weight, or exactly how anemic my mother is or isn’t today
or last week—or has it been a year since the lab technician called me

at 2 AM, sleepless himself after reading my mother’s numbers? She
should be in the ER, he said, but I didn’t wake her up to take her there

and frighten her. The next day we repeated the test, it came out better,
and we went out for hamburgers. Strong woman, said the doctor

who released us from Dobbs Ferry Hospital and I said, Yes, she is,
as she rattled ahead of me on her walker, happy about lunch, but

he pointed at me. That makes me cry now, not because my mother
is dying—she’s been doing that for years and I’m used to it—but

because I am such a coward. I crash into things, leave their
wrappings everywhere, and try to stuff all the mess into two

line stanzas. She’s ninety-five. She doesn’t understand. She’s
forgotten everything but the sun on her kitchen’s yellow walls.

The hospice nurse tells us morphine is a good drug, a safe drug,
that people treating the dying shouldn’t be afraid of it, that it will

be measured out so it won’t be hard to administer, and my sister
jots it all down in a three-ring binder that smells of bananas.

Forgive me, she says. I left a banana in my bag and forgot. I’m
too busy trying to keep the world from turning into a kaleidoscope

to even pack snacks, and that bothers me about myself. I wonder if
I need a three-ring binder. My mother sleeps in the next room. She

is the loneliest person I know, but mainly just wants to get things
right. Still. She was often cruel as a young woman, sometimes to me

but also to my sister, probably because she was overwhelmed as
I am now. The angry husband, the dinner to cook, the steno pad,

the piano neglected, the 5:20 train, the damn milk box. Outside,
kids from my old high school round our corner on their way home.

"Ain't Got Time to Die" deserves a nod for lines like "binder that smells of bananas" and "try to stuff all the mess into two line stanzas" as we get the impression the mother is not quite ready yet and perhaps the poem itself is not quite ready yet as this poignant ending unfolds. --Laurie Byro