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Rose Has a New Walker

A poem with a pitch-perfect ear for the tones and rhythms of dialogue, and a pitch-perfect heart for the art of preserving a feisty elder’s dignity—with a deft surprise ending. Three generations of caring, tactful family love and humor are captured here, and “the gravity of home” is the poem’s perfect close. — Alicia Ostriker

We buy it online. She got her old one,
standard issue gray aluminum, at the hospital
after she fell at Susie’s house last summer.
It’s a man’s walker, and she holds her elbows out like bent wings
when she grasps the handles. It’s too wide for her.
I toss out the question one day, if you had a new walker
what color would you choose.
Blue, she says, just like that. I order blue.
When it comes, we connect the hand brakes,
attach the basket and the seat,
pull the plastic wrap off the wheels.
Can I return it, Rose says.
Absolutely not, I tell her. It’s from the Internet.
She feels better knowing there’s no choice.
But it’s always good to try again.
Maybe I won’t need it. I ride the exercise bike now.
And in Chi Gong class I stand up longer.
Before I did the exercises from the chair.
Anyway, it’s not blue. I think it’s black.
So for that we’ll return it? It’s navy.
Under the lamp we compromise on navy black.
I tell her to try the seat. But always remember
to press the hand brakes when you sit down.
It’s like the brakes on a bike.
She doesn’t get it. She never rode a bike, she says,
she roller skated everywhere, to the botanical conservatory,
to the library. She tightened the skates with a key she wore
around her neck. When they broke, and that was often,
her father would fix them, a tragedy you kids never met him.
I ask Rose to push the walker in the hall.
She can’t help smiling; stately, royal she glides like the King’s barge
down the Thames. The waters part before her; I hear Handel’s music.
It’s nice, she says. But what should I do with the old one. A shame to waste it.
It’ll be a spare, I say. Maybe we’ll take it in the car when we go out.
Remember when Daddy taught me how to ride, I say. Running beside me,
his hand on the fender and then letting go.
Of course I remember, she says, he taught all of you.
And then I was free to pedal around the block, up to the drug store,
turn right, turn right again, over and over, centrifugally
pulled by the gravity of home.