LEAP DAY | Carolyn Oliver


The last time I spoke to my grandmother,

Boston’s February sun bloomed forsythia bright,

and Buffalo huddled cold under gray rain.


I wanted to collapse the geography between us,

to offer her the spring smell in my son’s hair,

or the touch of my hand warmed in the spilling light,

or a song to slide under the drugs, to ease her to sleep.


Instead, my mother held the phone close to her head,

so the camera caught the glancing blow of her face,

puffed and tethered to the oxygen tubes clear

as her tufts of hair, which glinted in the cloudy light

like shoals of silver fish darting in the sea.


I said “I love you” to the patch of skin just above her ear,

a new topography of veins and capillaries—

tributaries from a failing source—

webbed a few atoms’ width from the surface,

from air that could feed a fire,

but wasn’t rich enough for her to breathe.


It was intimate, terrible to watch her dying from a distance.

There was no fight to see, only struggle:

the body willing itself on to her end,

those branching blues and reds ferrying the last of life.


An hour later, when she was gone, I traced again

the contours of the last soft sounds from her soft throat,

sounds I’d caught as the filaments of her hair caught the light,

but could not hold it.

Carolyn Oliver, who is a graduate of The Ohio State University and Boston University, lives in Massachusetts with her family. Her work is forthcoming in The Worcester Review and Cumberland River Review and has appeared in Day One, Tin House’s Open Bar, Scoundrel Time, America, matchbook, and elsewhere. Links to more of her work can be found at carolynoliver.net.