Back in California I give my Midwest cooking a rest.
Pizza out of the freezer passes for supper.

In Illinois I concoct elaborate stews and spetzle.
To cosset my father’s appetite.
To help his stomach march through Julia’s death.

His savor for life no longer sat
at the dining room table after the accident,
if that’s what it was.
“We’ll get through it,”
stubbornly flung over his stoic shoulder.
Her absence, his first-born, hard to stomach.
Punched us all in the stomach,
making it hard to breathe, let alone eat.

His pants lie low on his slim hips.
He sucks in the pain
like he sucks in his stomach.
“Slim,” a work nickname from gasfitter fame
could still apply at 89.

His back bends over
as though to pick up an imaginary pebble.
By some slight of hand,
he’s looked the same to me
since I had the sense to look.
I need to catch up,
to wake up to the march of his mortality.
How can I digest this news?
A world without him in it,
would be no world at all.

The door
to my parents’ bedroom is ajar.
I poke my head
around the door and peek in.
There they are,
not a peep out of them.

Cuddled in Mother’s hospital bed
he cradles her head under his armpit.
Pop grins his head off.
Mother looks like she died and went to heaven.
Not a bad way to go, when you think about it.

“Tuck your head under my wing
and go to sleep,” Mama used to cluck
when I was her baby chick.

Here they are, nestled together,
under each other’s wings.
Nesting, with no eggs to hatch.

When I smelled the love
under my nose,
my father’s love smelled of:
pine pitch,
mud after rain,
and iodine on an open wound.
But, it was love all the same,
and would do nicely.

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