Jessica Traynor

He blows on his hands to warm them;
it looks like some ritual, some totem.

Between us, nothing but certainty –
the death-sound in the old woman’s throat –

and uncertainty – the priest’s whereabouts.
Our whispers summon a flutter in her eyelids.

Someone had mentioned the man down the road
who lives alone, gives some kind of absolution,

so here we find ourselves with this stout man
in a muddied fleece, who breathes on his hands

and places them on her shoulders.
Tears come first, spilling from her eyes;

those milky shallows that have mirrored us all evening
clear for a moment as he bows his face to hers.

He doesn’t look at her tears, allows her gaze to travel
to the ceiling above her bed. Only we invade her privacy.

He says nothing. Not one prayer or word of comfort.
We give him a crumpled 50 and wonder.

Some mutter darkly; one man asks what he did.
He tells us that at that late stage she had no voice left,

so he took her sins upon himself,
allowing her to pity him for all he carried.

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