Bettye Gene Branstetter
March 14, 1926 - September 28, 1994
At the end of that last weekend before her body gave up, I dressed to go back to her. Shirt in hand, I sat on the edge of the big blue bed and whispered out loud, oh Mother, let go, let go. Again, like all the weeks in all the months, I drove north the three and a half hours. Near midnight I drove up to the sleeping house. End of summer, the last garden season she had wished for was passing. All that growing and green around her as her body shrank softened the fall. I did not wake her. She slept, slipping away in her big white bed, the window open to the sounds of the back garden growing, breathing. Riding the song of a few late summer crickets I quietly drifted to a sleep of sorts. With the sunrise, the green and gold of the garden called to her and she woke. Her son, my brother, helped her sit and said good-morning words. Waking instantly, I went to her. Rare night, we all had slept. He went to other parts of the house to do the morning things. I held her as she sat in that mound of white covers, body trembling. I gave her my heart again. Oh Mother, sitting there so small, your shaking fingers pulling at the blankets, now no strength for words. Into my eyes, her eyes: a new look. I heard her breath change and said, oh let me help you lie down. I lowered her into pillows three high and soft, my arm around her, beneath her shoulders. How tiny the bones felt. Her face, her breath changed again. I called for her son, my brother; too far, he could not hear. Giving to the last moments, I had to stay. No more time. Realization of the imminence crossed her faceó tiny muscles tightened, released, waves of light, layers of light, lapping, currents through her skin. My words a bridge of cloud to hold, lift, deliver, I whispered, Don't look back, go now, the light you see is love, go into it, let it take you. And in moments, she had done it. Arm still beneath her shoulders, face next to hers, I held what was left. She was gone. Brother down the long hall, I call. He comes, sees her body lying. "She did it, she did it. She left," I say. He bends, touches his head to her fingers. Still so beautiful, those hands. My brother, her son, goes out to his trees; it is his way. In the quiet of her room, last rites: the heart tells me how. I touch, do, say the words that come. I sit in the chair by her bed. Deep in the stillness, suddenly, I see her from behind, face turned slightly, her smile, her body agile now, laced in light, moving into the endless. In the backyard garden I find three yellow roses, her favorite; the garden gives them. Into a vase and light two white candles. In honor of the mother, the flames burn for hours. In honor of the mother, I bow, hands to forehead, the last visit.
March 14, 1997, Santa Rosa
© 1997 Leslye Layne Russell
This poem was published in Ionization, A Poetry
Anthology (Minotarur Press), 1999.
It was also published in Free Cuisenart #19
December 1997-January 1998, and as a Select Poem
in Poetic Express in 1997.