We have each tried to read to him, with no success, except for James, who read him all of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes

I was there, in the first of the long-term care centres, when he finished the story,

And we all shared the narrator’s sadness about giving up his donkey,

Not having realized that he loved her; unable to retrieve her
I was lying beside him, listening to the sounds of small, solid hooves and

A tin bell, my father’s good breathing

The kinds of sounds that strike like hammers, later on in life

He was better then: my phone reminder CALL DAD still appears each night at

Eight, but there are no phones where he is now, no nurses to plead with to let me

Speak to him, and anyway, he will have been asleep for hours

We talked every night for months, then less and now

I wait until my mother, sister, or brother is there, and have short, stilted

Talks that end either in tears or furious impatience

He has stopped talking about his cat, or his own bed

And asks some questions over and over, while swerving in and out of sense

The donkey’s feelings are not evoked in the book;

The author also thrashed the abused creature, and God only knows

How she fared with her new owner: inside of her is the baby she was,

Learning to stand, then endure, enduring all

Please let me go home? my father said out of the blue, not too long ago

I’ll be quiet; I won’t bother anyone

Please, he said, again but so quietly, having been beaten down,

Having seen nothing but the dark, interminable road ahead

Diminish into a short path, governed by certainties that fly right past him,

By grace itself, by its absence and outrage.

This appeared in the July/August 2015 issue.

Lynn Crosbie has written five books of poems and teaches at the University of Toronto. Her new collection of poetry, The Corpses of the Future, will be published this spring by House of Anansi.

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