The Miles Before Sleep by Martin Willitts Jr.

The Miles Before Sleep

I did something hard: I stared at my mother
on a ventilator, lungs working overtime.
The end was in her sight, the shortening miles
before she could pull over and rest.

Her eyes were begging, make it end.
I looked into her eyes, trying to pull her back,
until I saw she wanted to drown
in silence. She had provided birth, and now
she craved death like it was a candy bar.

She was evaporating into her skin like a prayer,
fingers on a rosary, her road map
indicating miles to go before arriving.

I didn’t look away from observing death.
There is no shame in dying, no dishonor
in remorse, no journey without someone looking back.
She gazed straight into the nowhere, terrorized
at what was next. Religion had warned her
about heaven and hell, simple sins
leading to confession booths, scabbing the knees.

I began talking to her, mundane to important words,
chattering like a magpie. She was heading into Somewhere
and my voice might reassure her, telling her it was alright,
she could leave, I would be fine.

I have seen the eyes of surrender
as a field medic in Vietnam. It is not explosive
as a minefield, it is not zipped silent in a body bag,
it is not always gory, but always the eyes
are unable to say what they wanted to say.
When they are doped up on morphine, they can’t speak,
can’t name their fear. Sad eyes, seen-it-all eyes,
tired-of-battlefields or common-problems eyes,
the same eyes needing comfort.

by Martin Willitts Jr.

Martin on Facebook

Editor’s Note: The conversational tone of this poem gives the reader the sense that she is listening to a friend describing the indescribable.


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