Matthew Donovan, The Christmas Card


You’re gone ten years now, I think, as I grasp the wheel.
Driving blind behind eyes that send no pictures to a mind
that would not remember if they did. I’ve driven this
road so often there are no more decisions left to make.

But my reverie is halted by silver up above. Not a lining
of silver but a shine of white. The sun lurking unseen
behind speckled shades of gray, inside shining, haloed
frames. I’d never guess that clouds could dazzle me so,
and I pause to focus on the road. Those little changes in
color and shade that never come through in pictures.
So molecular. How many molecules make up one cloud?
How many in just a drop? And these millions that loom
above me—have they any memory of when they were ice
in a tumbler of rye? Or the sea?

Are they haunted by ghosts of gilled things that breathed
them in? I remember long ago we would picnic beneath
these idle parades, and I would slip into vivid dreams.
Feeling safe enough to sleep beneath the sky was a kind
of luxury bestowed on me by the love you gave. Is that
why the images above me now have shaken me so?

All the way round the horizon sails a fleet of misty
blankets. Concealing the blue, which itself has erased
the stars. Bright layers amble along as if waiting
to welcome weary giants after a day’s labor. Did they
welcome you, too? I realize my penchant for finding
hidden omens in those erratic, Rorschach blobs
has ebbed. These last years, my thoughts lay hostage
to what will not warm me in my twilight, the way
you held me in my dawn.

Will I always think of you, drifting high among those secrets
when a sunbeam pierces the grey? Cones of light poke through
the darkest sky and bring hope to some. But… hold on—
what object swoops alongside one tuft? Thousands of feet above
the ground, but unlike any airship or bird I’ve seen. It may be
a kite. Or a mylar balloon. Suppose I say it’s you, watching me
drive far below? If the thought of you seeing these watery eyes
warms me, might that be the meaning I’ve sought? If believing
this brings a sense of protection (and some joy), whether from
dopamine or divine intervention, wouldn’t that be enough?

The Christmas Card

I realized your final breath wasn’t even yours.
It was pumped into you by a machine. Filling lungs
long since eroded to almost nothing by diseases.
Diseases that excluded you from the transplant list.
And the machine kept blowing. Like machines tend to do.
Not knowing there was nothing left in need of nourishment.
Until the doctor turned it off. And marked the time.
But even then, you’d been gone at least a day. I think.
Your heart was hanging on, but that’s all. You left
hours before your withered body gave out. After almost
two months with a tube in your throat. Those final two.

I still have the Christmas card the nurses helped you write.
Your words in their handwriting. Nurses are angels.
Only the signature yours. ‘Mom’, in shaky toddler’s lettering.
And on the last day everyone was there. A room filled
with well wishing balloons and everyone that was left
of your inner circle. Not the little ones, of course.
Some of those who were there
have joined you since.

When it took longer than expected, the doctor asked us
about palliative sedation. It would ease any suffering
and reduce the heart rate with the goal of shutting it
down all together. Later, when I closed your eyes
with my fingers, they opened again. A last little refusal.
But the gaze was empty and unfocused.

I’ve spent the ten years since raising two daughters.
I have to be for them
what you were,
without you
to guide me.
But the part of me that IS you
will live on in their children’s children’s children. I hope.

Matthew Donovan is a retired, professional firefighter currently working for Habitat for Humanity. He was born and raised in the Bronx, and lives in Ridgefield CT with his wife Stephanie and their two daughters. Matthew is a graduate of Pace University School of Law.

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