My Mother's Visitation

When she starts coughing
then goes suddenly silent,
I rush into the living room
where she sleeps in her recliner,
and watch until she draws
a few deep breaths, helped by
the plastic tubes inserted
in her nose, the oxygen pump
whirring in the corner.
She begins snoring again,
and I go back to bed, but can't
stop seeing her mouth
gone slack, open wide—
as if she had seen something
astounding in her dream.
Perhaps my father, the man
she hasn't touched in years,
came back, his bearded face
flashing blue in the TV's
mute glow as he whispered
her name, then leaned over
the chair and kissed her
one last time, leaving behind
only a whiff of his warm,
tobacco-scented breath
so she would know it was him,
so that for a moment they were
breathing the same air.

James Crews is a regular contributor to the London Times Literary Supplement, and his work has appeared in journals such as Ploughshares and The New Republic. He is the author of two volumes of poetry, The Book of What Stays and Telling My Father.