Litter With No Canopy
Reading Time: 2 minutes
This poem originally appeared in Issue 20 of Tahoma Literary Review.
The best poems embody the content so that the reader re-experiences the feeling within the poem; this poem enacts two things simultaneously: the movement of the mother being carried out on a chair as she is dying and the mind of the adult child who is absent at this significant moment and recreates her mother’s final moments with an unspoken love and honesty. The lines have an elevation, a jutting out, and an abruptness that echo the stop and start movement of the scene. The sentence fragments arrive in burst upon burst. They echo the mother’s desire for dignity (a kind of resistance to death) and they also mimic the mind of the narrator who pieces together the scene in her mind. I was taken in with the vivid fragments and phrases as if her final moments were being enacted as we read--as we realize they must have been for the narrator in such a heartbreaking and loving way. This dense and electric poem felt Shakespearean to me in its blend of heartbreak and comedy.
EMTs carried my mom like the palanquin bearers carried
Cleopatra on her litter. Because my mom wouldn’t be moved
out of her bedroom on a wheeled stretcher so they carried her
on a dining room chair upholstered in red velvet. She begged for one
of her bras, clean panties sprinkled with some baby powder.
She refused an EMT’s oxygen. Always said she was embarrassed to die
without her bra and clean panties. She always told me,
make sure you never leave a house in dirty panties, just in case
you’re in a car crash, rushed to the ER. A chest X-ray found a clot.
In which of my mother’s lungs, I do not know. She stopped breathing
and she needed those EMTs to come back. In the ER,
she had no struggle left to stop them from
administering oxygen. This time her mouth was open wide.
Reprinted with permission of the author
Donna Weaver had this to say about "Litter With No Canopy":
When an ambulance arrived at my mother’s home on the morning that she died, struggling to breathe, she was still strong enough to fight the EMTs as they tried to assist in transporting her to the hospital. I was in an undergrad poetry workshop as she ripped an oxygen mask from her face. By lunchtime she would be dead at forty-nine years old and since then I have not been able to stop writing about her death.
Donna Weaver, (she/her) the founding editor of Caketrain Journal & Press, is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the American Journal of Poetry, Griffel, the Bangalore Review, Epiphany Literary Journal, Aji Magazine, Solstice Literary Magazine, Drunkenboat, Colere and others.