You have asked for just seven candles
demanded chocolate, willing to pass
on ice-cream, though not seconds.
You have invited only me.
I’m out of work again,
bring only the two-tiered tribute,
place it on the counter, and warn,
be careful chewing, there’s a file inside.
My mother and your two other children,
with their children in tow, come on their own,
pleased with their arms glazed with gifts; as if
you didn’t expect any.
My mother rifles through drawers for more candles,
chiding me for bringing only seven–not even enough
to arrange into the figure 72. You have hidden them,
anticipating her need to be occupied.
You wink at me. Today, it is seven weeks
that you’ve been alone. You’re thinking of moving on,
remembering the years you’ve lost, waiting for death,
holding its hand, washing its cheek.
Tongues click at your eagerness to sell the house
where you lived with her for thirty years. Forgetting
five years of fear to go beyond your front porch—
what if she called you?
As carefully as I measured flour, sugar, eggs,
you now measure out time in weeks, not years.
You keep your jacket near the door, keys in your pocket.
And you’re lonely, though not lonely enough to stay at home.
Her clothes hang in the closet, sweaters drape across chairs
from last spring when she could still sit for an hour
on the porch beside you. Threadbare.
While pictures are taken and drawers searched,
you and I, with the other grandchildren, eager,
cut the cake, no sense wasting time to sing.
We serve each other huge pieces, lick our fingers
and smile like conspirators.