He will sit at the kitchen table.
Sometimes he is animated and greets me when I come in.
Often, now, he stares at something unseen, at least unseen to us.
I’m also unseen.
Mom and I talk as we cook dinner.
He stares, ignoring us—if he hears us at all—and mostly immobile as he sits,
until he picks up something or smooths something that isn’t visible.
He may get up when something calls to him from the living room,
standing unsteadily and walking with an awkward slightly high step
or shuffling so much older than his years.
I don’t hear anything when he gets there,
but he doesn’t return, so he didn’t get lost in those few feet he walked.
He might sit in his chair and watch the TV, or maybe stand in front of it.
On a good day, he might become part of whatever show Mom put on for him.
He talks to his “people” when that happens.
Or he stands looking out the front windows, maybe staring still,
but maybe watching activity on our street this time.
I wonder when he watches or stares what he thinks about.
Wonder if he thinks at all.
He can’t tell us usually.
Or if he does, the ideas are incomplete because the words are missing
or jumbled because the memories merge and/or vanish.
He was the captain of giant ocean-going vessels
who stood tall on the bridge or the deck and watched the work,
analyzing what the various hands did with the cargo,
or gazing at the open ocean, the birds and sea creatures escorting his ship,
or studying the stars in the pitch-black night, knowing right where he was.
He had strong hands and arms
that could lift and carry so much,
tear apart what needed removing, maybe replacing,
build what his mind could envision.
His steps were sure
zipping up or down the gangplank like it was flat, solid ground,
walking briskly when on some mission,
marching smartly with the cadets,
strolling with the one he fell in love with.
His voice was strong, and his words flowed.
He told stories, sometimes tall tales—
except for those about Texas, which were true history.
His jokes made us laugh or shake our heads or pretend we didn’t know him,
and he laughed, sometimes until he cried, when we told a good one.
He’d tell it as soon as he could,
even if he pretended he didn’t like it when he heard it.
He prayed like talking to a friend, almost always knowing exactly what to say.
He would speak or teach, and the message was so clear,
and he even could step in on a moment’s notice on tons of topics
and sound like he had prepared for hours, days, in advance.
I look at him and see the silver-white hair like he’s worn it most of his life,
the bright blue eyes,
a crooked eye tooth when he smiles,
skin still with some tan from doing piddly little things in the yard as Mom works,
a little shorter as age has worn him down.
Sometimes I still see the one I’ve known my whole life, just older,
and I relish the moments as we talk and tease and laugh like we always have.
Sometimes, more often, too often, though, I see just a shell of that one.
And that’s why I walk.
–Terry Sue Cummings, 25 September 2019, ©2019