The moon pulled back the curtains,
sheer and white,
to guide us through the night.

I lay not far from my mother,
holding my breath
as I waited for her
to take her own.

Memories soared and touched ground,
only to rise again,
in our one-hundred-year-old family home.
I heard the thump of the heat pipes —
the ominous sound
recalling an evening circa 1978
with a frightened babysitter.

Having never studied
the living room ceiling’s oak molding,
I had a new appreciation
for nocturnal lines.

I had drifted into a light sleep on the couch
when my sister Amy walked into the room.

“Is it it?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “I saw her chest rise.”

We had lived like that for several days.
We believed mom would go
on Christmas day.

As the moon and sun slowly transferred space,
taking each other’s place,
mom moved her hands in the air.
I moved in closer,
a hallucination voyeur,
a scientist in a lab with no method
for studying her mind in flight.

We counted another night.


I went upstairs to bed in the morning
– as church bells rang,
children down the street
opened their presents,
tired parents
sipped coffee –
and slept soundly
until the afternoon.

My brother arrived around two.
I pulled myself up and went down.
“You’re dressed for the occasion” —
a sneer.
“I went to bed at 9 am.”

“Why?” was all he said.

Artwork @ Timothy B. Johnson.  Christmas Eve is a poem in Sally O’Dowd’s collection Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Other Tales of Love and Loss.

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