I pour Mom a bath of oatmeal suds and keep my forearm submerged to judge what is too hot and what will soothe her. She needs help taking a bath now. I undress her, the way she once held my body close as a newborn and wriggled the fat legs out of the cloth sack. She was always a good mother. Sticky notes in our lunch boxes, two cherry Twizzlers for dessert. I take her by the hand and the fingers feel small— soft fuzz on her head and the nape of her neck, skin flaking from her shoulders like lanugo. When I wash the matter from her back and my hand brushes her breast beneath the sudsy water, we are like two animals in the womb. The cornucopia of hair between her legs is bare, and we mourn the soft furloughed body—the body that carried and held three children—soon to be compressed in the wellspring of dirt beneath the earth.
A portable male urinal hangs next to Dad’s reclining bed.
He has a sliding drawer within reach where he divides
and rolls blunts. He smokes a thinly rolled one
while I stand in the doorway.
It’s always this way now. Me in the entryway. Him in bed.
I try to imagine how often he leaves it.
I miss your mother, he tells me. His shirt is stained
and the once-maroon carpet smells like rotten milk.
But missing her doesn’t stop
Do you remember when she screamed
at me for not visiting
when she was comatose? Or the time
she pinched that doctor’s ass?
What about when she spilt a paper cup
of ice over her head?
His cheeks are flushed, but he’s looking at his phone
as he speaks.
I remember Mom’s maniac smile, the delusions
of being abandoned,
and how the doctor jolted the raw skin grafts on her feet.
He asks for me to grab his closet lock.
He teaches me how to input my fingerprint—
positioning my thumb over it, dozens of times,
until I understand that he’s saying: Don’t Leave. I Miss You.
I don’t bring up the urine bottle.
How yellow it is. How the cup he hung of chocolate milk
next to his head needs to be washed. It smells like an arsenal
when I refill it for him. We talk to Alexa by his bedside.
Tell my daughter “hi” he instructs her, the same way he keeps
commandeering my fingerprints.
Alexa, where is Sara? He asks next. Their eyes are found
on multiple devices, she tells us. We decide she’s right.
That she might create a body from the debris around the bed,
prescription bottle arms, tin cup neck.
Dad tells me the password to his safe
again. Half of it is Mom’s birthday.
I see the pallor of his skin, eyes dimmed
towards his phone screen like in death, when he lowered Mom’s eyelids.
This code is for emergencies.
When will I need it?
There are boxes next to the bed too, cardboard flaps say
“Death Box,” baby wipes to clean himself, tubs of vaseline,
at least ten phone cords that could be tied together to form a noose,
and hundreds of vials of medication—weapons in every corner.
Dad is still trying to align my
finger and his phone app and this lock,
while Alexa plays Wild World
and smoke trails hit my face.
Laura Ohlmann is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida. Her work is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The Lindenwood Review and Weasel Press, and has appeared in The Maine Review, Honey&Lime, South Florida Poetry Journal, In Parentheses, The Elevation Review and was an honorable mention in 2016 Wild Ekphrastic Poetry Contest. She enjoys sleeping in her converted Honda Element and biking up mountains with her partner and dog.