Issue 11, December 2013
{ At the End of Your Life }
by Dzvinia Orlowsky

Elvis finally comes home for Christmas. You feel it in your bones. But you're stuck with the Elvis impersonator who instead comes every December for one night to entertain at Life Care Nursing Home. Truth be told, you never really liked Elvis or his hound dog, or the way he shook his leg like there was a mouse shit-scared clinging to it that couldn't be knocked loose.

Elvis II believes it's the promise of being blue without you that keeps the women's faces soft --- not rotting-pumpkin-left-out-in-rain soft, but young lady soft, stirred from dream pulp soft. He calls everyone princess, invites him or her to sing along, but passes you the mike. You spit into it because that's the way you kiss now, the way you get your laughs.

Your children assume that each Christmas you're thinking of them and how much money to leave each one when you finally die, though secretly you're thinking of Elvis's penis, loose and dangling, nameless and blind, still untouched in the new life that like Guava fruit will be handed to you split and spilling its hard seeds.

You eat the neon-colored frosting cupcake the nurse's aid offers to you, allow its sugary flesh to settle between your teeth. But this is not you, not your style. Where is your pastel portrait drawn on black construction paper, your hair wild as radish roots, eyes with dark circles, as those on potatoes?

Before the set's over, your son hangs a complimentary strand of violet Mardi Gras Itzaparty beads around your neck, ties to your wheelchair a Mylar helium balloon that hereafter follows you everywhere. It's Bing Crosby who comes home, Ma -- Bing. He offers to tuck you in an hour early.

But you curl back your lips, shake your head no. At the end of your life, this is what love knows: someone always in a hurry to go. Let them remember you as they will: a bargain balloon; falling star-of-the-week; the last card you signed.

Party over. Sorry Elvis, you snarl at your son, you'll have to walk that hound dog on home.

Pushcart Prize recipient and Founding Editor of Four Way Books, Dzvinia Orlowsky is the author of five poetry collections published by Carnegie Mellon University Press including Silvertone, Convertible Night, and Flurry of Stones, co-winner of the 2010 Sheila Motton Book Award. Her first collection, A Handful of Bees, was reprinted in 2008 as a Carnegie Mellon University Classic Contemporary. Her translation from Ukrainian of Alexander Dovzhenko's novella, The Enchanted Desna, was published by House Between Water Press in 2006. She teaches poetry at the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing of Pine Manor College and at Providence College.