On Grandmother’s Couch

by Q. Woodward

The only doctor in Franklin, Idaho,
was drunk that night, so a midwife
caught my grandmother before she fell
onto the rough kitchen table.

Eighty-six years later, we sit
on her plastic-covered couch,
her scarecrow body slumping
into mine, her hands like
orange peels, curled
across my forearm, grabbing
at almost anything today.

Because I have hair she calls me
Nathan―her teenage gardener who says
he feels guilty each time my mother pays him.
All bald men are Arnold―her husband
twenty-eight years dead. This silent hour
is punctuated only by her battle
to breathe through thick phlegm
that refuses to rise.

The doctors we pay to preserve her
speak clinically, as if we are colleagues,
noting that things like this will run
a charted course. I sit, cradling her frame,
and count the tiptoe rhythm of her heart,
every measure nearing decrescendo.