Dan Bellm





Deep well

        She gave me language,
and wanted nothing at all
	in return for it —

	what could I give her?
Even after she had stopped
        speaking I couldn’t

        give it back, letters
of the alphabet falling
	like ash and settling

	in our hair, on our
shoulders, every word that would
	never be said now;
	
	she wanted only
what she had already, and
	less and less of that,

	so that when I want
nothing, when I manage to
	delude myself that

	I could relinquish
it all this very moment,
	I suppose it’s what	

	I have from her as					
gift — what, to join her in death?
	Unconditional 

        love: the dark side. Things
began disappearing years
	ago, the contents

	of childhoods shaken
out of boxes and given
	away; she knew we

	didn’t need them, so
she didn’t ask, until by
	the end even her

	travel diary
was sucked into the pool of
	unremembering

	and lost; one day it
was gone from its shelf, she would
	or could not say where,

	that precious dog-eared
spiral stenographer’s pad
	she had carried through
	
	every state but one
for a span of forty years;
	nothing was precious, 					

	and one day it was
her wedding ring’s turn to go,
	speaking of years; what

        was that moment like,
of casting it away, if
	there was a moment?

	Unsentimental 
to a fault, or wary of
	sentiment, when the

        plainest moment of
tenderness so easily
	made tears well up I’d

        want to uncause them;
it’s true; I thought of her as
	a deep well, never

	to be seen into;
she kept our secrets for us,
	as she kept her own;

	she preferred to be	
all right. When I happened to
	mention, sitting by

	Dad’s bedside at the
hospice at the very end,
	that my wristwatch was					

	broken and I’d need
another, she reached over
	without a thought, pulled
	
        the Timex off his 
arm as he lay there in his
	coma and handed

	it to me, saying,
Here, Dad’s not going to need
	this one any more;

	the way that, in her
dementia, in her travel
	outside the mind, she

	reached a positive
regard for every moment
	that seemed like grace, a

       grace she’d always had,
and more so now, entering		
	any room for the

	thousandth time saying,
This is so pretty in here,
        eating her simple

        boiled or microwaved
plate of lunch and pronouncing				
	like God at the end

	of another day’s
creation, This is really
	good, until saying

        even that was not
needed, leaving the world at
	peace, holding onto

	nothing. She’s the one,
you could say, who trained me to
	love books more than I

	loved people; they were
more durably kind, staying
	the same or changing

	over time as they
chose to, privately, in my
	head, the one perfect	

        way I found not to
be here, but without going,
	which was a kind of
	
	salvation after
all; you could say she threw out
	everything, and at

	last herself; still, I’m					 
left with this, less complete than 
        it used to be but

        holding up bravely
one life to another in
        its battered tin box,

	a set of wooden
letters of the alphabet,
        that she saved for me.