Lined up in front of the television, the chairs
look like scattered boats waiting for the start
of the regatta. I’m telling myself I look normal,
not nervous. I get it from my mother.
At age sixteen, she cut her front lawn
with craft scissors, praying not to be seen—
waving a toothy “hello” when she was.
At this hour all the patients just nod at questions.
They do not acknowledge me. I bring a puzzle
over to my father. And a cup with ice (he said
he missed having ice). There’s the Asian man
who goes to M.I.T.— my mother brings him
my brother’s old clothes. I’m glad to know
he has a stutter, and that he looks up
to my father, and that he knows to shake my hand.
The nurse passing out pills from a cart
mumbles “Free Bird” in a half-whistle, half-hum,
shaking the pills like a tambourine as he walks.
My father tightens his red bandana
and starts his puzzle. He can’t be bothered with
re-runs of Gilligan’s Island. He wants a task that
has an end, so he can be sure he is needed for the next one.
He is thinking he wants something to take him out
of this place—to dig him up and reattach his roots
in a nice, neglected garden where no one
asks if he likes it there or if he needs more
of anything—as he winds the puzzle pieces
in waves between his fingers. I think of his
garden at home, and the fact that it’s summer
and he couldn’t possibly know that it wasn’t a good
season for his tomatoes. The calendar
on the bulletin board across the hall displays
a piece of faded-pink paper with the month’s
activities. It predicts lunches, TV shows, and even
the weather. Do not tell me what’s next—I am not
a date reminder, or a blank space on a calendar
waiting to be filled. When I walk out of here
after visitor’s hours are done, I realize
that our tomatoes are from Stop and Shop,
and my father doesn’t even know.