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A Fall

Molly Peacock

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
    - Thomas Hardy, “The Voice”

Lesson 1: Drop

As if the cliff
of helpless love had a face—
stony exasperation
slipping with frustration
—my husband cautions,
“Don’t over-dramatize,”
when he drops me off at the desk
of my analyst’s building.
Crossing the lobby, slippery
black stone steps loom,
a long wet staircase.
I hold the elevator open
with my cane and ease in
—up to the twenty-first floor.

Vigorous, she comes to the door.
My aren’t you moving well!
Smart haircut.
Me? Fallen tree with a drooping head.
I drop into a chair she motions toward: her chair,
where I have never sat before.
Did I really do it? Fall on purpose—as she fell?
Did I grab the stone instead of the railing
to feel the rock rush at me?
To refuse to descend gracefully?
Therefore to stumble. And fall accidentally.

“I’m so old,” she says. Eighty!
She can just read the dedication,
on the birthday present I’ve brought.
With the Turkish rug between us:
She sits on the couch. In my old place.
I in hers.
Where have we fallen landed?

With sublime practicality we order up,
and our egg salad sandwiches rise 21 storeys
along with two lidded cups of hot chocolate.
A lunch I adored as a child.
“Good!” she says,
and banishes her helper to the bedroom,
so we are tête à tête .
“How did it happen?” she demands, in charge.
I am small. Weak. Still.
She enlarged, moving.

Lesson 2: Lucky

Less than a minute after “This is danger–”
(not even the “OUS” could fly from my mouth),
I’d pitched forward in the dark.

My fall itself fell,
rising up, both cliff and pit,
as my ankles slammed
the angles of the stairs
and my shoulder smashed
against a fist of rock.

“Are you all right? Are you all right?”
people asked me, collapsed at an inhuman angle
amidst wet fallen leaves. Don’t touch me yet,
I whispered. Let me see if I can move.
Call my husband.

“I am lucky.”
That’s what she always says about her health.
I did not die.
I am not paralyzed from the neck down or in a body cast.
I did not bleed from the brain, as she did.

Some part of my branch snapped, my analyst said
when the stroke changed her life in thirty seconds—
she had fallen from the great height of her height,
five hundred feet, was it? No,
about five feet three inches, collapsing
in an inhuman angle on the floor.

Some branches broken off become
walking sticks.
Where is her cane?
There, stowed in a corner.
She’s asking about my life,
as she used to, when she had a practice,
a place where adults, the experienced,
could be small and still.

Why be ashamed of falling down a staircase
to arrive and be mothered by my former analyst?

Lesson 3: Watch

We want those we love to stand unaided.
“What were you thinking?” My husband persists.
“Just hurrying, as people do,” I say lamely,
now that I am lame. My feet are blue—
all the internal bleeding drained down
to my toes. “Next time,” he declares,
“you have to insist that people watch out for you.”

It’s only in the autumn that we really watch trees.
Leaves just hurrying down, as they do.
How happy children are to play in heaps of them.
How happy I was just to eat an egg salad sandwich
as if I had come home from school.

Time for acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Time to change my ankle wraps.
Time for my sling.

Inside the word Fall flourishes: ALL.

When we go out, I forget my cane
and have to limp back to get it.
Lessons. Don’t they have to be absorbed?

Lesson 4: Joking Around

“When I signed up for IN-SICKNESS-AND-IN-HEALTH
22 years ago,” my husband declares, chuckling as he
untangles the cord from the unwieldy hairdryer,
“I didn’t think it meant hairdressing!”

(I will not be able to lift my arm for six weeks,
and he will have to style my hair.)
The whole mess strikes us both as funny.
My analyst’s (excuse me, former analyst’s)
birthday is over, life resuming.

Of course we married each other to parent each other.
Our poor parents tried, but they slipped
and tossed us both up in the air.
The minute we left their hands we began
grasping for one another even though
we hadn’t even seen a speck of each other in the distance yet.

My sense of humor circles like an eagle.
My husband’s sense of humor circles like another eagle
beyond the river’s cliff.
Eagles don’t soar only to chase.
Over the fall trees on the river, they soar to play.
My husband’s hand hovers with the hairdryer,
and the strands of my hair
fall into some sort of place.