Tonight we're getting ready to go to sleep, our first lethargic
exercise in anything familiar, when my grandmother says stay
in here with me as she turns down the bed, you won't make
me sleep alone now, will you? Her urgency lacks an upward inflection.
So instead of going back to my room, I untuck the sheets
on my grandfather's side where his nightstand looks like it should
any other evening: his hearing aids in their storage cups, a magazine opened
to the last page he read, glasses folded again: glasses that passed
the day clutched in her fist as we sat in the hospital's waiting room.
I grabbed them, she kept repeating, I thought he'd need them.
The mattress dips where he lay, ready to cradle the body
that won't return. It is just the two of us now. I sleep
in the middle. In slumber my grandmother turns, hits me
as she reaches for someone not there. I sleep where I used to sleep
as a child, between them--between what is and what isn't.
Kate Johnsen is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where she is the Bernice Kert Fellow and on the staff of Ecotone. Johnsen earned her BA from Emory University.