Whatever your youngest relation says to do
do it without question.
If she hands you an empty bottle to wish inside
then whisper whatever you can imagine.
You will always be older than you are now.
Your breathing will end before you know it.
When you laugh with your best friend
know it will not be forever.
Helping your mother down a flight of stairs.
Hugging your lover before you leave.
Listen to the thawing water behind the house.
To the chatter of thinning winter trees.
Listen to the vibration of the dishwasher.
The hum of fridge. Even that. That. And that.
Image: “Water Bottle” by Tony Dias, licensed under CC 2.0
Jeffrey Perkins: My mother tells me my grandmother, Ada, used to say “This Too Shall Pass” so often that my mother grew tired of it. Though I was very close to my grandmother, she died from lung cancer when I was 11 and I don’t remember this about her. I remember staying over at her house on Friday nights, eating fried fish, playing cards, watching detective shows, and her unwavering love. (She typed the first poems I wrote in the third grade!) When she began chemotherapy I would walk her each day around her small house for exercise until she couldn’t even make that short walk. After she died, my mother would use the phrase at various times, bringing my grandmother’s presence into the situation. It’s now a phrase I use, reminding myself that change is the constant.
Years ago, when my niece was young she handed me an empty water bottle she found on a walk and told me to make a wish. That instinct toward magic within the everyday stayed with me. There’s also an echo of Marie Howe’s poem, “What the Living Do,” which ends with an image of the speaker catching herself in the window of the local store and cherishing that vision—honoring the memory of her brother who had passed away by recognizing her everyday living.
As sickness takes the lives of people around the world, we all ask ourselves how long we have here. My poem serves as a kind of meditation for me, a reminder to slow down and appreciate whatever is around me now because it will not be here forever.