Pandemic Files

The Mother Between Us

Fady Joudah

How does the soul look on the body of a patient trapped in protraction?
Who am I to tell you
that your mother loved you, that you should let her go
to anywhere away from here on earth in this form:
she’s reached the threshold
in which neither a stranger to her, as I am, or her own flesh and antigens,
as you are, can tell what star she might wish upon?
I can tell you it would be a submission to love, a form of it,
a release form. Her wandering eyes
barely track sound, and who’s to say what she sees or doesn’t,
under the rubble of neon lights in a hospital room.
What loneliness is hers? A stroke
with brain hemorrhage, on dialysis, and the virus takes the cake
of the acute and subacute on top of the old?
Who am I to tell you her time is no longer hers or yours?
When did any of us own time, when was time ever owned?
And what would you do in her feet in their heel-protector foams?
Not leaving a will is no ground for punishment above ground.
Hope is a mother. I have a mother, too,
but I am not the history of those who betrayed you 
when I say that plasma and antibiotics
can no longer show anyone what healing is.
What healing is an answer that you’re a stranger to.
Yet this I concede: your sorrow is greater than mine,
your grief to come.
Between us is your mother
and what she was, the twine to commence their meeting.
You have a day job,
can’t visit her during my working hours,
and I’m the “unknown caller” you’ve come to know well.
Or the quarantine made us smartphone pals.
This summoning of the soul to exit a body to enter a body
in an afterlife or none. The inevitable
that never ceases to astonish.

Fady Joudah is author of five collections of poems, most recently Tethered to Stars, and several volumes of translations from Arabic.
Originally published:
March 14, 2022

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