When the Time Comes

To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go. ~Mary Oliver

These daughters pressed against my side,
their hair smelling like the warm earth,
the one on my lap, all squirming limbs and softness,
they will die soon- maybe in one year or seventy-
there’s no use denying it, trying to forget.
Like the agapanthus,
all life and exuberance, pressing colour and
movement from every cell until the day when
life begins to wear out, the leaves start
to curl in on themselves, the petals loosen
their small grip, or the fine white butterfly-
how does a butterfly die?
I watched one being eaten this
morning by a swooping green bird,
it fought its sudden demise with fierce flapping,
holding on to life till the last dive
into darkness. But others must fall
silently in the trees, or lay
their tissue wings across warm stones
letting the sunlight swallow them, the wind
lift their papery bodies after they’re gone.
I press my mouth against my daughters’ hair,
the skulls that grew beneath my ribs,
I lean into their aliveness.

The girls draw portraits of faces over and over, piles of paper faces growing on the dining room table. J has drawn me, though my eyes and hair are black and unfamiliar. I wonder at her image of me. P’s girl is crying and colourful, like a sad Raggedy Ann. M’s face has eyes at the top of her head, stylized and funky. They draw and colour and argue over pencil crayons.

I give up my conviction to not buy hard plastic and buy two shiny new plastic buckets for the drought. A basin for dishwater. Two buckets in the bathrooms. We collect bath water, sink water, dip into the brown soapy water with a plastic jug to flush the toilets, water the plants. We still have more water than almost anyone in the world. I am puzzled at the memory of flushing without thinking.

We play Sleeping Queens on the back porch. J always wins. We play Spot It and Shut the Box and King of Tokyo and Deer in the Headlights. These are the games of choice these weeks, though I can’t always muster the energy to play them. I already regret the chances I’ve missed.

The girls watch my play practices, know the lines better than the cast, skip behind plants and boss the middle schoolers around. We string stars between branches, tape long leafy vines to a gold moon, wrap delicate wires around fairy ears.

I wait for reports about my aunt dying on a far away continent. One day she has stopped eating,the next, she’s revived,is walking. We watch her totter on the tightrope between worlds.