Visiting Uncle Charles

by Norman Klein

I arrive, fifteen, rehearsing news
from my mother and sisters.
I’ve been told to let myself in,
but not to wake him if he’s sleeping.

I hang my coat in the hall
and peek into the living room’s
yellowed flowered walls,
and wild ivy draperies.

And there is Uncle Charles sleeping,
his head tipped over the
back of the wooden rocker,
his mouth open.

Then his blind niece appears,
listens for the rattle of his breath,
carries the cup to him
and whispers, “Coffee.”

His eyes open. “My sweet,” he says,
as his shaky hands find her hands,
and guide them to his lips,
and then fall back to grip the arms

of his chair as she tips the cup just so
so he may drink in sip after tiny sip —
and I stand watching, dumbstruck,
so shaken I can’t breathe.

Now she’s leaving with the empty cup,
first backing away as if to tell him
she’s still listening, then turns knowing
there is more to be done in the kitchen.

I slip away, ashamed, and run home
to tell my mother he was sleeping.

 

Norman Klein has just moved from Chicago to the NH woods. He’s published poetry in Ploughshares, Epoch, and The Beloit Poetry Journal.