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from 'Mary in Old Age' | The Nation

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from 'Mary in Old Age'

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"I don't want to stay here. I want to stop it."
Was "here" the nursing home? Was it the chair?

The condition she was in? Her life? Life? The body?

. . .

..."Life" seems melodramatic,

Too large and general to fit the case.
But "the chair" seems too small. And "the nursing home"

Too obviously the right answer to be so.
In my reason and health I was outside this world,

Translating her words with a too easy confidence.
But Mary was there, imprisoned in it, sovereign.

The scene changed in the way I experienced it.
It was as if I wasn't in the room

But in the empty lobby of some building.
Mary was in an open elevator,

Old-fashioned, ornate, and beautiful.
The elevator kept moving up and down,

Kept going down to the hell below--when I
Leaned over and looked down then I could see

The suffering and also I could hear
Sounds of the suffering too--then up again

To the hellish heaven above--peering up there
Through the elevator shaft I saw and heard

The transcendental hilarious suffering there.
I heard voices as if there was singing or quarreling.

The Otis elevator never stopped at all.
Mary's body and spirit kept passing back and forth

Before my eyes, vivid, free of the conditions
In terms of which her sympathetic friend,

Standing in the deserted hallway, saw her
Carried up and down in the elevator.

Over and over I saw her going past,
Clinging to the bars, gesticulating,

Frantic, confusingly like a figure of joy.
In the heat of the room on the summer day

Mary, standing now, began to unzip her dress,
With a slowness and persistence that suggested

An indecent purpose, a naked revelation
Of body or soul, embarrassing to a visitor

There at the nursing home on a kind errand.
Perhaps she only wanted to unzip the dress

A little way, because of the summer heat.
But something about it seemed to refuse the suggestion.

There was a concentration and seriousness,
Oblivious of the visitor and his thoughts,

As when she looked so earnestly at the bouquet.
We were in the same room and not in the same room.

I was in the same room. She was in a shirt of fire.
She was out on a plain crossed by steppewinds.

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