Shirts or Skins, a 2014 poetry chapbook by Jim Redmond

Indoor Plumbing

When we finally got indoor plumbing, my grandmother was bedridden and would ask for water, glass after glass of it, there was no filling her and no one understood where it could possibly be going. Everyone was waiting, for what, exactly, it’s hard to say. To be honest, nobody knew what to make of any of it, but the waiting became important to them, and it filled their lives slowly with a promise until there wasn’t such a thing as a life any longer, so much as the waiting and the promise. The slow wet whisper of “more please,” that was less and less a voice and more and more what we were realizing for the first time is only the world, and wonderfully so, the waiting to see if after one more glass, all ninety pounds of our grandmother would finally say “enough,” or “thank you,” “goodnight.” And if during a full moon, the children coming in, somehow called by the gentle crashing of the tide, could discern their own trajectory across whatever history trembled beneath grandmother’s blouse. And me with my younger brother watching the gentle rise and fall of that blotted entirety, the dark shift of her dropsical thighs, the sleepy children crawling up around her, into the bed, children buoyant with love, and loved back in a way that only water loves the buoyant. Can I cry then and breath a small prayer across the slow wash of her coming in and out around us all, hoping for the prayer to find its way back to me someday in a bottle or a dream? And a strange gravity pulling the whole house toward her then, pulling the whole town toward her, until everyone had quit their jobs, until all anyone ever heard was the sound of feet running to and from the water faucet, from everywhere and every world, all to one point, all to two words—“more please,” “more please.” And soon all speech was forgotten or abandoned in the place of those two words. When she finally did die, everyone was still waiting, and the promise, whatever such a promise could possibly be, had become so big and everything else emptied out by it, and we were waiting for her to burst open with it for so long. And when one of the children dropped a penny down her throat, there was no splash, and maybe after the point of departure, no penny either. And once in a while, someone will still carelessly go to the sink with an empty glass.

Originally published in Front Porch Journal


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