Show Time

By Kathryn Paulsen

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Somehow I thought he’d want to do
different things from what they used to do
together here.  But no, a show,
a big Broadway musical show,
is his choice for tonight.  Yes,
there are tickets.  I was half-hoping not.
And wishing in vain that it was May, not December,
and we were buying for three.

That last spring night we had clear hope
we watched Guys and Dolls in her hospital room.
Though we’d missed the beginning, and her favorite song,
we watched till the end.
She nodded off,
as she always did at home before the tube,
head on his shoulder,
but nodded back in,
to say, surprised, in her everyday voice,
“It’s good,” letting us believe
she was on the mend.

After that, she had just three days more,
and only one in which
she could say a word.

Fifty years, Dad would say,
with wonder in his voice,
that after a whole half-century
he couldn’t have kept her with him
for the whole show.

It’s hard to find anything to say
on the way to the show.
He takes my hand, grips it tight,
as if for dear life, as if pulling her back
from where she hadn’t yet gone.
Wishing what can’t be,
I squeeze back
as tightly as he.

We sit high in the mezzanine.  Other years,
she’d have been beside me,
between us.  The overture begins.
The curtain rises on a spectacular scene:
boat, dock, river, sky.
Time to cry in the dark.
He takes my hand again.
For this scene, these songs, it belongs
to her, to him.

So many scenes, so many songs,
to get through in this show.
At least “Old Man River” is done,
till the reprise.
It’s another reprise we’re looking for:
our own leading lady
in her phantom seat.

Not for a moment do I stop
thinking of her, and yet
through the scrim of memory,
song and story pour in.
How she’d have loved this show.
“I could go to the theater every day!”
I hear her say.

Finally the curtain falls on the finale,
and rises again and again.
We clap hard to keep it going,
up and down, up and down.
                                                      How many times
till the night’s done—how many nights
till the end of the run?
In her memory, we clap our hearts out,
clap for three.

Kathryn Paulsen