Various and Sundry Poetry

Ellen's voice

“Ellen is reading a short story to Adrienne now, who is breathing quietly, her head tilted toward Ellen’s tender voice, listening.” – email from my mother, 11/13/13


I am glad I met Ellen today
on the 7th floor of Sloan-Kettering, between York & 1st Avenue,
room 707. I am glad because when my mother writes “tender voice,”
I can say I heard it, too. We shook hands when we came in,
and Ellen gave me her seat by Adrienne’s bed,
so that I could have a turn
at holding her hand. It was so much warmer
than I imagined, IV bags bookending the mattress.
But I lost track of those the moment I sat down.
stroked Adrienne’s fingers one at a time. She couldn’t talk so
instead we filled the room with our voices, and that’s
when I really heard her, Ellen, floating soft and even
above the antiseptic chirps of the heart monitor.
And I am glad that if this is the last time I see her,
I will have known that Adrienne has heard it too,
closing the hard day with a story,
leaning in close as she could bear,
Ellen’s voice touching her shoulder
as if to say, “I will miss you
when you go.”