In the paint-chipped, fading motel
in Joshua Tree, in the dim light, he
lies in bed sleeping, still sleeping—
sixteen, twenty hours. When he
wakes up, it’s anxiously, in a panic.
She finds and gives her husband,
the Viet Nam vet, his pain meds
(from where she’s hid them), gives
him some water, touches his shrinking
body. For years he has cursed, thrown
things, threatened. His addictions to
opiates, alcohol, resentment. She thought
her stopping drinking would help? It’s
harder and harder for her to remember
when they were happy. She sleeps on
the pull-out couch for how many nights
now? Night/day merge. She slips out
for an hour to pick up food (although
he rarely eats anymore). He craves
still more of the pain pills when he’s
awake, but that’s less and less. When
he is he tries to gobble them like jelly beans.
She can’t or won’t kick him out now
(should have years ago). She watches
the wasting away, the death spiral.
When he is lucid, she talks to him
about God, regret, letting go. A hospice
caretaker appears every other day
to bathe his withered body. Then she
runs out to see her best and only friend.
When the visiting nurse comes she asks
her, How much longer? Not much,
maybe two weeks. Later, she will sleep once more
on the couch. Before she drifts away she
listens to his labored, wheezing breath
waiting, waiting, waiting for it to finally stop.
John Sierpinski has published poetry in many literary journals such as California Quarterly, North Coast Review and Spectrum Literary Journal. His work is also in eight anthologies. He is a Pushcart nominee. His poetry collection, Sucker Hole, was published in 2018 by Cholla Needles Press. He lives in Yucca Valley, California.