River’s Voice

The Card Player

I go with my mother to the nursing home
to visit some of her friends.
She wears her navy blue suit,
a sand colored blouse and a pearl necklace.
The pearls are large and irregular, deep gray
on the verge of purple, iridescent. The necklace
is almost too daring for a woman who is almost ninety.

It’s late June, the afternoon is warm,
everybody sits at two big tables near the garden.
The women sit together, the men sit together;
that’s the way it is. The French doors are open
but nobody sits outside. Too much of a risk, they say,
you can never trust the weather.

My mother sits at the women’s table.
They all talk at the same time. Somebody mentions
my mother’s necklace. They ask questions.
They don’t wait for answers. They list illnesses, symptoms,
names of people who died recently. They do the math;
the years since the husbands died.
Already twelve years, my mother says.
At one point the table is quiet, some women fall asleep,
or they just close their eyes.

My mother walks to the men’s table.
They are playing cards. They don’t talk much.
One of them turns his chair and places his cards
upside down on top of the green felt.
He is not facing the table now, he is facing my mother.
Then, he says, That’s a nice necklace you are wearing.
At the same time, he opens his legs.

There is nothing strange about it.
A man sitting on a chair opens his legs.
But my mother covers her necklace with her left hand.
She talks to the other men, she laughs.
They stop the game for a moment.
She does not sit with them. She says goodbye.
She keeps her hand on top of the necklace
until we leave the room.