The Grandmother in the Mental Hospital

for Molly Prusak

She used to hide things: pliers
in the refrigerator, a roll of stamps
behind the canister of flour.
This drove my father crazy
but I liked it: opening drawers
and seeing things you never expected together
Now she lies on the narrow bed
while the baby pushes her wheelchair.
Let him, she says, staring
at her quiet lamp. I tell her
about his new sneakers and the weather
until she waves to me to be quiet.
I don’t like how her room faces
another building. And all the pills
that don’t work, that never have,

and I don’t like how my father, 25 years ago,
would gladly hold open the door of the Buick
to drive her here so she could sign in
the crooked letters of her name and cry
when they said more shock therapy was a good idea.
“I’m going to die,” she says,
but she has always said that.
Always, stories of potato fields
where her good brothers and sister
should have been buried instead of in mass graves;
the way we ate too much
or too little, the lost son, the too-small
apartment, the stupid neighbors, the bad weather
and what they did to her mother in Poland
She sits up and falls into me.
“I never thought it would be like this,”
but how else could it be?
She sits up and lets me hold her, takes my hand
that two months from now will take the shovel
from my mother to push another clump of dirt
into her grave where all the crazy things,
finally quiet, fall together

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg directs the Transformative Language Arts program at Goddard College and facilitates writing workshops. Her poems have been published in more than 60 literary magazines. Her most recent books are Lot’s Wife and Write Where You Are.