the washing bit

So I walked away,
found a corner booth
in an empty bar, and

You will be old, succumbing at last
     to the things you’ve done to that body
and I,
     old too, but now the stronger one,
will push your wheelchair around the neighbourhood
     we found
     or made

     All these women who halo you,
     all these women
          with bed-curtain hair,
          candlestick laughter and art-print kisses—
     they would follow you anywhere

     but I follow no-one
     and do not wish
     to be followed

We’ll walk side by side,
our circles
intersecting. Friends

will often come to our house
     with its old furniture,
     home-made art
     and books

but when the night reaches
a certain depth,
I’ll quietly tell them,
‘We’re tired now’

I’ll help you undress, smelling your familiar sourness,
and wash your sagging nakedness line by line—
     the seamed back of your neck,
     the crooks of your elbows,
     the skeletal fingers whose nails I cut and file
          every other Saturday

When your skin’s clean and your medication taken
     (the water-tumbler trembling
     between your hands),
I’ll help you get into bed

Then I’ll peel off my layers,
clean my own skin as best I can

and sneak under the blankets
to wrap you in myself
and myself in you
as we always
have, as we always

A long time later
I type it up
     sitting at my desk
     in the clear-eyed morning,
looking out my window
     at the couple over the road
     mowing and edging their lawn
while behind the faded pickets
     of my rented yard,
     flowering grasses
     attract butterflies

I don’t say
‘what was I thinking?’—
I know
what I was thinking—
but I don’t suppose
I’d be happy doing that,
especially not
the washing bit

Maybe a woman
     with bed-curtain hair,
     candlestick laughter and art-print kisses
will follow you all the way
     to the hospice,
     ignoring your moods and tantrums
     and cleaning up your spills

and maybe I
     will be one of the friends
     who come and go—

or maybe I won’t.
Who knows?