Before visiting my mother-in-law in the nursing home
I'd dab on an extra dose of sandalwood oil
at the jugulars and wrists, thinking its repetition
like a thin yellow flashlight beam
might pierce the rubble of her memory and vision,
her soft body's implosion into the wheelchair,
lunch's whipped potatoes,
and the incrementally simpler conversations
she held with the nameless stranger I'd incrementally become.
An aromatic postcard (I thought) from Indian jungles,
freshening the wreckage of Philadelphia, the Depression,
the War, three marriages, one daughter who shared her name -
Big Peg and Little Peg,
a prelude, perhaps, to the now hastening
conflation, confusion, dissolution.
If it worked she showed no sign
but chatted in cheerful, shrinking circles,
unpegged from the names and times
I thought she ought to have,
for reasons I can no longer recall.