Keeping Watch As My Ex-Husband Dies – Janice Northerns

I stare out the window, remembering
walks to the last soda fountain on the square
for breakfast those Saturday mornings,
our hands twined so tight it was hard to hold
the paper sack. From his hospital bed,
my ex-husband calls What are you looking at?,
wants to know what he’s missing.

Just thinking of those fountain Cokes and doughnuts
from Stinson’s Drug, I say. Remember walking
down the street, sugar on our mouths? He frowns.

He is young enough to recall the taste
of first dates, but doesn’t. Doesn’t even remember
our kids’ names when I tell him how our boy
sat the bench at yesterday’s Little League game.

What he remembers instead is last night’s dream
of a Nazi death camp, how I left him there.
And now as night falls, he begs me not to go.
How to tell him he was in a war,
but not that one? No context for his memory
but the heartbreak of my actual leaving years ago.

Those early mornings we drank our Cokes
from to-go cups, too young for coffee, ice chilling
doughnut glaze to grease slick in the back of my throat.

Now a sticky film coats his brain
as he searches for words, waste water
swirling up in black-bubbled aphasia
so that he spits out Please, I need a drink
of thirsty.
I hand him the glass, and as it shatters
to the floor, I stare once more out the window

but find against sunset’s glare dust motes streaming
into a reflecting pool of transgression: years I spent
back-pedaling, pulling away, leaving him in the dust,
dust that now waits to reclaim, settle him down
into the long dark furrow to come. He doesn’t ask again
and I don’t say that I am making a list of all he will miss.



A native Texan, Janice Northerns now lives in southwest Kansas with her husband, two dogs, and a laptop. Her poems have appeared in The Laurel Review, Chariton Review, Roanoke Review, Southwestern American Literature, descant, Cold Mountain Review, and elsewhere. Her awards include a writing residency from Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, a 2018 Tennessee Williams scholarship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, second place in Southwest Review’s 2017 Marr Poetry Contest, and the Robert S. Newton Creative Writing Award from Texas Tech University. Read more of her poetry at or follow her on Twitter @JaniceNortherns.

Image via Pixabay

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