©2014 Kenneth Harper Finton
(from the book “FROM WHENCE COMETH THE SONG”, coming in 2015)
“Ma,” he said, “I’m coming to a wall,”
and our eyes fell open in surprise
for the cracking voice had now been still a year.
My Grandpa’d been an active man in life,
but age had grasped his arm
and tied him down and dragged him
into bed without a mind while speech
had been denied him this long while.
His crumpled, trembling form had lain so still
sheathed between two rusty yellow sheets.
His body gasped for breath and when he’d move
he’d twist from side to side and back again
like car wheels spinning helplessly in snow.
His eyes were bloody veins with specks of dust
through slits in fleshy lids; his mouth would part
and whimper while his mottled body twitched
and shook like horse’s flanks in summer’s heat.
A thin and almost concrete upper lip
concealed the stain of his tobacco teeth.
His mouth seemed almost bound with baling wire
that muffled and suppressed his final speech.
Grandma sat beside him on a chair,
her bony hands were nestling in her lap.
Her head cocked like a scrutinizing wren
listening for a word that he might speak.
She’d no fear of death, for she had visions
befitting one born smothered in a veil;
Her thin lips pressed together when she heard
his cracking voice call out to her for help.
“Ma,” he said, “I’m here and there’s a wall
that’s made of stone so high I cannot see,
and on my side there1s nothing but a woods
that’s dark and thick with thorns and knotted trees.
The land beside the wall is very good.
I’d get a crop if only I could plow.”
Grandma’s eyes now blacked and filled with tears:
“Henry, listen close to what I say;
you follow ’long that wall now (do you hear?)
and pretty soon you’ll come upon a gate
that’s rusty as it’s not been used in years.”
“Now, hush, don’t be that way.
The gate won’t harm you and you’ll just pass through.”
“Ma, will you please stop that talk,” said Pa.
“It won’t do any good to scare him now.”
“I’m comfort to him, son. He knows his time.
A man needs comfort at a time life this.”
“Well, what is all this bull about a wall?
And why’s he talking now after a year
Of whimpering just things that make no sense?”
“And who are we to know the ways of God?”
“Ma,” he cried, “it’s there. I see the gate.”
His body twitched and rolled from side to side.
I’m pulling, Ma. It’s opening, I think.
It’s made of steel and heavy as a barn.”
“Here, hold my hand,” she said, “don’t be afraid.”
Pa rushed up to the foot of Grandpa’s bed;
My heartbeat clapped like thunder in my head …
and them we heard the sounds, the squealing scrape
of rusty hinges opening on a gate.
My father looked at me and at him.
and Grandma sat there smiling toward the bed.
The gate squeaked open while a wash of air
cold as the winter’s breath swept through the room.
And then the gate banged shut, the cold breeze left,
and Grandpa stopped his twitching and was dead.