Project Description

Reading Wendell Berry to My Parents in the Hospital, That Distant Land Comes Close

My mother opens her eyes when I pause, so I persist
with Wheeler Catlett of Port William struggling
to fulfill his obligation to Jack Beechum, deceased.
I am sitting at her feet.

She is tilted up in the hospital bed,
her breathing mask breathing for her,
her breathing mask pressing on the painful tube in her nose
that drains her punctured stomach
while the botched operation tries to mend,

and my father in his Sunday best
sleeps on a vinyl recliner next to her.
He’s spent from watching her through the night
because he will not let me take his place.
He believes he knows what she wants.

Wheeler knows what Beechum wants,
but Beechum’s daughter doesn’t give a damn,
she’ll sell the farm to the highest bidder, to hell
with Elton and Mary Penn, who cared for her father
and the land he cared for.
I want to know what will happen,

and my mother wants to know,
and what about the house she’s kept,
who will watch the bay she’s loved,
and will her daughters care
for their father?

Both our mouths are dry, but she can’t drink.
Today they said not even ice chips.
I take a small sip. The daughter,
in a fur coat, waits near the courthouse steps.
She’s giddy with her approaching freedom,
and I recognize that fantasy—who asks for complications?

The morphine is persuasive. Her eyes again close.
I want her to rest easy, and long silence might wake my father,
and I need this education,
so I keep reading aloud from my chair near their feet,
speaking Wendell Berry’s words in Wheeler Catlett’s mouth,
explaining what it means to succeed, to be a successor,
to be given something, to accept it.

Lynn Otto

Lynn Otto is a freelance copy editor and writing mentor. Publications include poems in Compose, Raleigh Review, Sequestrum, and others. Her collection, Real Daughter, won Unicorn Press’s 2017 First Book Award and will be published in October 2018. She holds an MFA from Portland State University and lives in Oregon.