Winter Solstice by Ellen Bass
The longest night of the year and I'm awake
in an overheated apartment on the Upper West Side.
I roll over and over like a rotisseried hen
while Janet's breath softly rises and falls
and our son sleeps soundly on the floor,
his broken leg silently knitting bone to bone.
In the next room, my mother-in-law snores in her bed
beside her old friend. Newly widowed, their grief
is draped over chairs with blouses and bras,
the stretched-out elastic suffused with their powdery scent.
An ancient schnauzer wheezes at their feet,
short legs splayed from the loaf of his body,
random growths knobbing up through his stringy coat.
The loyal organs of my body--about which I've thought
so little as I've hurried through the years--
are losing their grip, loosening like nuts and bolts
of an old vw that's rattled over unpaved roads
until the tailpipe's fallen and you've got to tie a rock
to the gearshift to keep it in fourth.
At home, I've propped up the head of my bed --
Ulysses and Anna Karenina keep me aloft --
but here on this fold-out couch, the sack
of my stomach slides and sloshes.
Outside, the trees are snaked with lights
burning the shape of bare branches into the sky.
When I get up to pee, I watch a few yellow taxis speed by,
a woman roller-skating in Central Park,
her mink jacket a dab of umber in the distance.
I am so tempted to wish myself into the future,
the night over, as though life were infinite
and I could afford to throw away the inferior bits--
edge of cheese that's grown a little mold, bony neck
of the chicken, stale heel of bread--
as though these few hours of the musty
smells wafting up from the carpet,
heat clanking in the pipes, Janet
groaning, Oh honey, as I fuss, yet again,
with the lumpy pillow, weren't irreplaceable,
as though I don't know I'm going to die.