Visiting My Uncle
by Fred Zirm
I sleep in my oldest cousin’s
boyhood bed, a single twin
built into the end of the narrow
room – its shelves crowded
with trophies topped by figures
frozen, forever serving invisible
tennis balls, shooting an unseen
puck, hurling a bowling ball
down an endless alley, or merely
stretching arms heavenward
in celebration of a forgotten
victory in an unnamed sport.
This was the only private
bedroom for what was a family
of eight. Everyone learned to share
space and effort – one bathroom for
six children, plenty of dinner dishes
to scrape and garbage to haul, lots of
laundry to wash and lawn to mow.
When the youngest died of an overdose,
was the grief divided or multiplied?
Now all the kids are grown and gone,
and my uncle has been battling cancer
for longer than his grade school grandkids
have lived, each one well practiced at sending
Grandpa get well cards and crayon pictures
as the greedy cells spread from colon to
liver to bone until he was declared near death
a half dozen times. Today he jokes he awakes
each morning eager to see where the pain
will pop up next, where the radiation or new
drug will next need to be aimed.
His tennis buddies still show up weekly
to play on his private court.
Too weak to walk, he rides the lawnmower
out to watch them and trade barbs
about someone’s lack of a backhand
and someone else’s lack of speed.
They play in the early evening,
when the air cools and the light
gets golden. You can see their younger
selves in their form, and their age
in their immobility. No one holds serve.
They seldom go for winners, mostly content
to trade shots and quips,
to savor the setting sun,
and to rally, rally, rally on.