Catherine Harnett

In this room, unremarkable and warm, I hold the chair, support
my body as we stretch and bend in gentle yoga class. I am afraid
that I will fall like the women in my family did, their bones thin as paper.
My mother was a bird, her little skeleton, a frame to hold it in,
the heart which failed her in the end. She reached for chairs or counters
or our outstretched arms to right herself. I watched her stagger, topsy-turvy
and ridiculous. So many accidents: cracked ribs, fractured vertebrae.
She shrunk just like her mother had, both frail, chirping things.
With each move, my mind returns to freshman Modern Dance,
my black Danskin, Mme. Le Fevre with her Isadora scarf demanding
that we become storm, or rage or tiger, her music avant garde and jarring.
I am not who I am now, tests confirming the slow degradation of my bones.
I am the girl whose wrist is safe, who would just sustain a bruise.                     

My daughter takes her weekly lesson from the woman
trained at Julliard, demanding and aloof, who teaches
pieces we have come to hate. Thank God we are through
Christmas and its cheery melodies.  In the outer room
I wait for the hour to be up, listen to my daughter
struggle with the notes. When she says goodbye to us,
the teacher drops her eyes; she has recognized
my graceless metamorphosis.
It has spread; they cannot get it all. My hair is thin
as my father's was at seventy;  the taste of metal
in my mouth. My daughter plays Fur Elise over
and again, her small hands, her concentration.
Does she know that spring will be the end of things
for me? How awkward it will be letting go just as
the bright birds perch, the hostas and the ferns,
thought dead, emerge each year.
It feels unfair to have to leave among the beginnings
of so many living things. Soon the weeping cherry’s leaves
will green, the numbered days. I pray my girl will play
her heart out at the June recital, remembering each note,
how it is played poco moto, with a little motion. I wait
for spring to come, and its endings; I hear my daughter
practicing again, the hard middle of the piece,
the metronome ticking time.


Cadavers provided to medical students are usually identified only by age and the cause of death. Students sometimes feel that naming their cadaver honors its life.

Well here I am, all yours. Skin and bones,
but still a find. Bequeathed to you, I'm cold
and quite inflexible, so unlike myself.
You are still a boy, look at the way
your hands tremble with the knife. Is mine
the first heart you’ve ever had? So pale
and unremarkable, it was my assassin in the end.
All dolled up and rosy once, it broke so beautifully.
If you choose to name me—and I hope you do,
please dispense with names like Millicent or Pearl;
I'd like a modern one that ends with double "e" or
something foreign I could wear a peignoir in.

There were nights I wondered how I'd look
in just a sheet, and whether you'd take notes,
and who would keep me company in that cold place.
Maybe a derelict, a John Doe who no one missed, or
some girl whose tattoos said everything we need to know.  
Or perhaps someone like me, fresh from the Home
after a rousing game of hearts.  I've looked so forward
to your touch, your gloved hands,  the humming light.
You will be the very last who enters me. I guess you'll do.


His last wish is plum or peach,
fruit with something pink around the pit,
juice that lingers on the chin, one sweet
bite to break the skin. He has never wanted
anything so much, except that girl who sent
him here, her stunned glance when it was done.
There is nothing left except the hours.
There is so much fruit.

We lay together on our bed and watch the news
unfold. There is no clemency. After years, our hands
no longer touch. Nothing lingers on the skin. Pears
languish on our tree,  once bountiful, filling bowls
throughout our house. There is nothing left for us
except the hours and hours. So much time.

Catherine Harnett is the author of two volumes of poetry, Evidence and Still Life, both published by the Washington Writers Publishing House. Her poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, the Chattahoochie Review, Fine Madness and numerous other journals. She also writes fiction; her short story "Her Gorgeous Grief" originally appeared in the Hudson Review and is included in the anthology Writes of Passage, a collection of coming of age stories published in the Hudson Review during the last fifty years.  She lives in Fairfax, Virginia, with her daughter.



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