My mother and I make beds using linens bleach-warm
from the dryer, tucking the foot with hospital corners I haven’t quite
mastered, a twist-lift, like lightly gathering skirts to climb a stair.

For fifty years I make every bed like this,
with a step or two fallen away, while my own children,
who I never thought to teach, simply float

a duvet in the air and wrap it around themselves at night.
My shadow on the wall shakes out pillows, the cotton quilt,
and together my mother and I make this bed on a dusk-blue January

evening before I leave to keep watch in an ICU
where she has no blanket, only a sheet that barely covers
her body chilled into therapeutic hypothermia. I fold myself in a chair

and measure time by counting the beats between
monitor alarms and watching the screensaver’s endless game of pong.
My mother will wake up in two days, propped at an angle

and unable to keep her feet from sliding out of the bed’s left side,
desperate to speak, and with me, for once
and suddenly, aware that what she needs to say is for me

alone and for a moment I am just as much her only child as she is
my only mother and so I let myself be carried by her half-voice
back into that terrible and lonely intimacy that was ours and long ago

gone, and that led us, sure-footed and certain, through these numbered
hospital corners and numbered vigils and numbered shadows
to a predawn blue that holds a precise number of beds yet to be made.