John Gallaher | Poetry

Things aren’t going well with my dad. He’s frail and telling
the home hospice people that he wants to go to a nursing home.
He’s mad about the food the neighbor brings over. What even is this?
Who would eat this? So the social worker calls me, because
when the patient does this long enough, it’s everyone’s shot nerves.
We go back and forth and come up with a plan,
that he could go into a nursing home for five days,
called “respite care.” And after that, maybe he’ll decide which
he likes better. So I call him, ready with The Plan,
and it turns out my cousin Margaret is there from CA. She has
a background in elder care and she’s decided to stay
the rest of the year. He’s ecstatic, and says he’s so happy a “blood
relative” is there for him. Since my brother and I are adopted,
I pause a moment. Language isn’t neutral. It’s just

that he’s so happy . . . I tell her he can be a handful.
She says she’s up for it, as she’s between jobs anyway
and wants to move to TX, so this lets her check the place out.
There’s not really a lot to check out from my dad’s house, but sure,
if you’re good I’m good. Things go OK, then not so OK
then OK again, and he talks to another cousin, Anne,
who’s a lawyer, and he says he wants to adopt Margaret.
Margaret calls to say sorry about that. He’s her uncle,
that’s enough. Anne says he’s not really going to do it.
He’s just in that stage. I’m not much for conclusions. I prefer the shapes
of shadows and music, which I move through riding my bike
across the university’s campus, so many connected parking lots.
They seem to go on forever. And just like that, my father dies
one October evening while I’m at the grocery store.