D. Walsh Gilbert

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Mary Gets Plucky & Bold in Assisted Living

Once, Mary demanded ‘nice’ potatoes: firm,
unscarred, clean of dirt. Now, she’s

nourished by what’s on her plate
whether mashed or baked.

She tried lemon-pepper cod
and rice-stuffed cabbage for the first time,

and grilled mahi mahi
which she doesn’t know is dolphin.

And her tablemates tell her their stories.


Each summer, the sword-leaves of day—
lilies find their way

past the granite boulder immovable
beside them. I could

cut and arrange the yellow blossoms,
but I can’t save them overnight.

They live for the day.


When I phone her room after breakfast,
she may choose to answer, or she may not—

bedmaking, sweater-folding, showers
take precedence.

She has greeting cards to stack,
and an oil painting to finish for the children.

I’ll wait for her to dial back,
settled in her red chair, more ready

to speak: I’m fine. No need to worry.

Mary Faces Firebrand and Ember

We build the fire with year-old hardwood
dried against the side of the house out of the rain
and ready now to crisscross over sap-filled
starters in our brass fire bowl. We’ve asked Mary

to join us for toasted marshmallows & cider
under a canopy of faraway stars. Flames
engulf the logs, though some resist—completely whole—
and crumble gradually, soon ravished in ash & smoke
defying gravity and rising. Mary finds rapture

in the parts unburned: a branch crooked like a knee,
the heel of a green stick, some long-lost staples
left after posting a ‘No Trespassing’ sign:
They’re glowing red like devil-demon teeth.

We make plans for more appointments
to doctors she’s afraid to visit—the next
is the one who scrapes an open wound on her foot
while skin passionately bleeds so to heal. Then, it’ll be
the dermatologist who’ll scan her naked body
for gall and blister. But, for tonight, she is

the hungry one, her marshmallow blackened & crisp.
Its outside sloughs from its soft, sweet center
as it suspends from an oak twig. Mary still
has an appetite for the charcoaled imperfection—
an instinct to continue. Once full, she drops
the stick into the fire and waits for it to disappear.

Mary Surrenders

There were two of them—lamps big as boulders—
meant to cast light, but covered in shades
splayed like beach umbrellas and made of skin—
goat skin, lamb, something unidentified
and stretched—which kept the light
focused downward. Mary had lugged them fresh
from the cooled kiln of a potter. Glaze-hardened drips
resembled stone. Bedrock of Greenwich Village
brought home. There were two of them. Then,
one cracked, and it couldn’t be touched
until cemented by glue, and then only gently.

Would you allow a change? Give up on it
as a lamp? Make it into a planter holding
purple bougainvillea—thorned paper-flower
with petals thin as lampshade skin?

And Mary concedes this could be a solution—
what had been could be something new—housing beauty,
daylight reaching its core: what had only been dark
could become the definition of reclamation.
No longer left in somebody’s garage. Not discarded.

D. Walsh Gilbert is the author of RansomOnce the Earth had Two Moons, and imagine the small bones. Currently, she’s preparing a collection about her aunt, Mary, who recently moved into an assisted-living home. She serves on the board of the non-profit, Riverwood Poetry Series, and as co-editor of Connecticut River Review.

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Photo Credit: “Foothill Acres Nursing Homes, Neshanic, New Jersey, circa 1965 – Advertising Postcard” by Fred W. Rochelle, Flickr.com.

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