I look toward my mother's bed
in its sunny spot by the window.
Her young nurse is smiling.
So is Mother.
She lies in a blue hospital gown
a geometric print of triangles, squares and circles
in shades of gray, burgundy and dark blue.
Her skin looks healthy.
Her thin, white hair brushed off her face.
After the nurse leaves, she asks,
"Do you want to play bridge? We need a fourth."
Her eyes are wide and bright.
"I haven't played in years," I say.
She accepts that excuse
and points her painted nails
to the others she imagines in the room.
"They will play," she says.
I stroke her damp forehead,
holding her bony hand bruised from the needles.
I brush my fingers down her silky legs,
now devoid of hair.
"Do I look a mess?" she asks.
The setting sun casts a shadow across her bed.
"No, you look wonderful," I say.
She smiles, not minding
that her mouth is without her bottom dentures,
and brags how her cousins
tell her how good she looks
and how well-dressed she is.
Even here with her gown hiked up to her diaper,
she cares how she looks.
I try to pull her gown down.
She keeps grabbing it.
I cover her with a sheet
and sit down to watch her play cards.
"Six spades," she says,
"Play out." I play out.
She uses her nightgown as her bridge hand,
trying to lift off each pattern section
one by one as if it were a card
and place it on an imaginary
table in front of her.
I want to know what happened to her,
and what can be done about it.
"Hospitalitis," the nurse says.
She has seen it a million times before.
I go back to the bed and continue play-acting.
I am thankful too.
Her mind is taking her to that other place
where she is young and beautiful
and lives on the west side of Chicago.
I haven't seen her so happy in years.
"I like this little room," she says.
"I'm glad," I say.
Madeline Sharples has worked most of her professional life as a technical writer, proposal process manager, and grant writer. She began writing poetry when her oldest son, Paul, was diagnosed as manic depressive and has continued as a way to heal since his death by suicide in 1999. Her poetry has appeared in The Compassionate Friends newsletter, ONTHEBUS, The Great American Poetry Show, and will appear in an anthology about grief entitled Feel Better in the Mourning. Sharples also co-authored a book about women in nontraditional professions called Blue Collar Women: Trailblazing Women Take on Men-Only Jobs (New Horizon Press, 1994), co-edited the poetry anthology The Great American Poetry Show, Volume I (The Muse Media, 2004), won third prize in the Redondo Beach, California Exceptional Artists poetry contest in November 1999, and has published four poetry chapbooks. She lives with her husband of 35 years in Manhattan Beach, California.