“Lying in my Grandmother’s Bed the Night Before Her Funeral” by Mary Kaliszewski

by Mary Kaliszewski ’21

Winner- Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize

They gave me her name
That’s a big responsibility
My very existence is in charge of keeping her memory alive
Be careful

They gave me her necklace
I’m not Christian
But now this cross is always around my neck
It was given to me a while ago
I wore it everyday
I lost it
I found it a week before she died
I started wearing it again
We got the phone call

They gave me her bed
It was years ago
When she moved out of her condo and into the nursing home
For good
They put her life into boxes and
When things couldn’t fit into boxes
They gave them away
They gave me her bed

When I was a kid
My sister and I would go to her house and sleep over
We were little
All three of us could fit in the bed
We watched the beginning of a scary movie
Too scary
We turned it off
We played monopoly
I lost
I cried
She had a ceramic tea set that we painted
We drank water out of fancy teacups and didn’t treat them gently
My sister and I went to bed
She stayed up
I heard her moving around the kitchen
The lights were dim
I could smell the comforter
There was a night light on
She told me she used to sit by her night light and read when her mom turned off the lights
A whole life I’ll never understand
She came to bed
We slept next to her

I’m lying in my grandmother’s bed the night before her funeral
I’m bigger now
My sister lives in a different house now
My grandmother is dead now

They gave me her name and
They gave me her necklace and
They gave me her bed and
They took her away

When I rest my head
I wonder how she felt
In her empty condo
On days that we weren’t there

What did she think about?

When I close my eyes
I picture myself back in her house
I picture her lying next to me
It’s still dark
But the night light is always on

What does life feel like when you know you’re at the end?
When you rest your heavy bones in bed after a long day the same as the last one?

What does it feel like to exist in photographs and poems and memories
But not in flesh?

Lying in my grandmother’s bed the night before her funeral
I can feel her lying next to me
Breathing softly
Telling me stories
I wish I remembered them all

She will always exist here for me
They gave me her name and I do not know what to do with it
They gave me her necklace and I wear it everyday but what more?
They gave me her bed and I lie in it every night and think of her
I can feel her next to me but when I open my eyes in the morning
I am always alone