The outside air is crispy,
and slithers whistling through a crack in the door,
inside the house that’s been the warm center of my world,
with all my yearly relatives bundled up.
I remember that draft was there every winter before.
It’s where I used to escape to, that kitchen doorway
with pie tins on the counter, full of homemade fudge,
all deceivingly stale and flaky,
like the quieter relatives I would find there,
touching the tips of their noses to the glass
to watch the snow falling light and somber,
drinking a diet Pepsi, striking up a year’s worth of conversation.
Grandpa stays in the living room now,
instead of his annual spot at the kitchen table,
where he’d decompress from the crowd,
slather a shaky smudge of butter on a slice of Wonderbread,
ask how I’d been like I’d only been gone a week.
Now he’s breathing through a tube-stuck nose,
from a machine in the back room.
He stumbles over the cords that tether him to it,
and ignore his condition the way a clock ignores.
The machine, his “puffer”, puffs and wheezes with him, unconcerned,
and so somebody has to be.
“He has about twenty-seven percent of his lungs right now,” grandma says
“And twenty percent is pretty much lethal,”
I can’t help but think in disgust
of the seven cents I left an hour ago
in a little red gas station take a penny, leave a penny bowl
like it was worthless, hopeless,
like seven percent couldn’t really ever make a difference.
She stares over my shoulder at everything but me
through fleshy, swollen eyes, that grow pink and splotchy,
draped with pockets of thin spider-web flesh.
“I cry a lot, while he’s sleeping,
but I always try to be grateful,” she says
“Because a heart attack or a car accident-
I would never have the time to say goodbye.”
She lifts her glasses into her wispy, sandy, silvery hair
and blots at her warm brown eyes.
The second generation of grandkids watch Hannah Montana
as my brothers and I put together the puzzle we bought him
but he was too weak to finish, tremors conquering his free will.
He’s sleeping in the back room, I know
because a trail of clear tubes loops back into the makeshift bedroom
that was born when he started dying enough to not be able to climb the stairs.
I can hear his labored Darth Vader REM breathing.
and keep thinking
through all the sickening regularity of tradition
that any of those gasps could be the gasp,
The same as anyone else’s could be, but more.
I listen for his breath to stop.
“Any minute now,” the deepest part of my stomach cringes,
But it doesn’t stop,
and I press in another piece of the puzzle.