‘The Wolves’
A Poem by Paisley Rekdal

From her Collection Nightingale

July 2, 2019  By Paisley Rekdal

It was the week of asking. Asking
to watch her eat. Asking if she understood
the doctors’ questions. Asking her
to explain the difference again between
wanting to die right now
and dying later.
The tumor making certain answers
unquestionable. I watched her point
to the incense dish from which
someone swept all the ashes up. Asking
if she recognized us. Because that
is what the living want: thinking
it is a sign we have been loved.
But the answer was a summer
drive, a mountain, piles of leaves beneath which
a wolf slept, suckling her pups.
Some deaths are good
and it makes them hard to grieve.
She was, at times, in great pain. We wanted her
to die, too. That was important. But first
we wanted her to remember.
From the bed, a finger pressed
into its pile of leaves. Gray haunch,
unmovable ashes. I didn’t want to disturb
their tableau, she told us. And drifted off. And
we did not know the meaning behind this.
The wolves must have looked so comfortable
to her: wordless and in this wordlessness
perfect. Did she want to go there, too.
I could point to the image and say, my father
must be in there, my uncle. Or, the wolf
is you, you are still the mother,
as if necessary to name that self
at the end of its world. An animal cry,
memory. That was our selfishness.
As death was hers. She insisted upon it.
And why not. It was good for me
to get a chance to know you,
she said, who had known me
my entire life. Then the pills, a small
handful, crushed into juice.
She was happy then. We all were. Or
said we were. What
is the difference now.


Excerpted from Nightingale. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2019 by Paisley Rekdal.

Paisley Rekdal
Paisley Rekdal
Paisley Rekdal is the author of three works of nonfiction, including The Broken Country: On Trauma, A Crime, and the Continuing Legacy of Vietnam, and six collections of poetry, most recently Nightingale. She is the recipient of fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets, among others. She teaches at the University of Utah and is Utah’s poet laureate.

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