What They Cannot Say before Dark

There's lots to say that don't need words.
—Maxine Kumin

At the kiosk, thirteen women sit
their wheelchairs, trying to find a face.

The nursing station is empty, the light
blinks for assistance and the bell snickers

to no one. I walk in, cross their path
like a deer in the field of eyes but

they are true to the horizon of decline:
"How are you?" my mid-age attempt

at crossing over. A lean, gray woman
pivots in her podium—"We're not here—"

and suddenly excavates the history
of their chorus: this fragile band

of residents. I cannot answer her truth—
"Yes, you are," I trot like a magpie,

but we both know I am lying—and her
motif is the mercurial room of waiting:

for the volume to trail off, for the winter
to climb its icy fingers up the glass

and claim, not a voice, but a woman who,
without a perch, gave the group a name—

someone whose cognition disappears,
a sterile smile who turns the hall to bed.

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