by Marsha Barber

1.  Abundance

During my aunt’s last autumn,
she relished the rich turn of maple leaves from
red to yellow, the canopy of colour,
smell of wet mud,
crunch of leaves underfoot, beneath
blue autumn sky,

the way the body never forgot:
wrested such deep pleasure
from its core,
pores, veins, nerves, on fire,
the gloss of hot skin
stripped, fulfilled.

During my aunt’s final autumn
she savoured warm crusts,
and last crumbs of pumpkin pie
from a gold-plated spoon,

cupped my face between
her cool fingers,
said she refused
to let such beauty
slide from memory,

cried when she told me
so much abundance
made it even harder
to let go.

2.  When the ambulance came

to take my aunt to the hospital
for the last time, she said,
“It all went so fast!”

Only a week before
I watched her
stare into her small gilded mirror,
apply lipstick carefully,
her pouty bottom lip
swelling with each crimson stroke,
powder softening the contours
of her patrician nose.

She chose the pink scarf
tied it expertly
around her powdered neck,

took pains to separate
and lengthen
each eyelash,
pluck each eyebrow hair,
apply pearl drop earrings
as white as her apple-crunching teeth.

Back then, there seemed to be
all the time
in the world
to spray perfume,

to choose the perfect pair of pink
kid leather shoes,

to apply fuchsia nail polish
stroke after expert stroke,

to take a sip of tea,
and blot those moistened lips.

All the time in the world,
until today,
old, ill, face washed clean.

Yes, it went so fast,
not even time
to face the ride
in the speeding ambulance,
with a fresh coat
of powder,
lipstick spilling in her purse
against white Kleenex, now
the colour of blood.

3.  My Late Aunt Smokes 

Soft cumulus clouds
waft across pink sky at dawn
and I know
she is smoking again.
This time, she feels no guilt, only purest

No longer is she confined
to the four corners of her bed,
the measly bones of her body
thinning month after month,
sustained only by cream puffs
and occasional bites of Sunday beef.
Now she can inhale great swathes
of morning sky

and understand so much more
than was apparent in that small
nursing home bedroom
with red roses painted on the wall
like blood clots,
and everyone telling her
not to smoke.

Now she enjoys the largesse
of a spiralling solar system,
an infinite galaxy,
finally free
to light up,
as if there’s no tomorrow,
as she fills the clouds
with blissful puffs.

— from Juniper Volume 2, Issue 1