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Paula Reed Nancarrow

That January



January 15, 2021


A week before he died, my father became a great-grandfather. To twins. My sister was spending most nights at his house by then. She went downstairs to tell him the text had come: safe delivery, healthy boys, mother and babies doing fine. His son was a grandpa now. “Praise God! Thank you, Jesus!” my dad said, having gotten more evangelical as his time – and the twins –  approached. They had a little wine, by then a rare thing. Excitement did the opposite of tiring him out. She lay down on the couch, like you do with a child, to model what was expected.


In the Janus month

crocuses bloom in the snow —

sad he can’t see them.



January 1, 2021


When I call to wish him a Happy New Year, my father is using the nebulizer. I talk to my sister for a while, share the memes she hasn’t seen: Hindsight is 2020. We didn’t celebrate this year, I had nothing to wear to the living room. When she puts my father on, his voice is weak, his mind cloudy. Quite nebulous enough. “I’m not feeling good,” he rasps, then launches into a litany of blessings that trail off into how beautiful my mother was, how much he misses her. I stick to tangible things, as if they can hold him here longer. Tell him about the oyster stew I had for New Year’s Eve. He says he remembers oyster stew. I wish him a winter of good soup.


Bitter winter wind

My father’s words condense like

mist on the mountain.


January 6, 2021


By then the hospital bed had arrived. My father watched the insurrection from it. When his brother called to admit he was wrong about Trump, my dad said he could keep the five dollars. My uncle said it was a ten dollar bet. My father said then you owe me five dollars. Or maybe not. Maybe I invented that. My uncle is fuzzy on the details; their arguments, he claimed, were mostly in fun. But when democracy and your father’s body are under siege at the same time, I say let imagination improve on the truth.


Epiphany moon

your cold light casts bleak shadows

where no stars spangle



January 10, 2021


It was the final conversation I would have with him, four minutes long, and I muffed it. Too much interrogation. Hard to avoid when you are a thousand miles away and getting one word responses. Even so. He didn’t want to talk about what he’d had for lunch, or if the oxygen was helping him breathe, or whether the pills were helping him sleep. He was looking for a football game. I let him go. Later that day my daughter called him, and they talked for fifteen minutes. He was introspective then, reviewing his long life. He thought God was going to take him soon. But by the end of the conversation, he was saying, maybe not yet, and call again soon. He knew the Titans were winning. Though he couldn’t read against who, he was clear on the score.


In the last New Year

he focusses on a field

where it’s still halftime.


January 19, 2021


My sister sent me a picture of him in the bed so I could understand the placement of things in the living room, how he could see into the back yard. This is the last image I have of my father. I tried not to look into those eyes that could not look back at me, then or now. Instead I saw the flipbook of taxonomy his body had become. The long fine fingers of his hands, clasped over his chest, resembled the claws of birds. Paper-thin skin on his forearms flowered with bruises. Rosacea painted both his cheeks cherubic. Oxygen tubes made a crescent under his glasses and over the family ears, like sails for a little boat. “It’s beautiful outside,” he had managed that day.


His winter journey  

The bed with rails dreams itself

a sailboat. All aboard.



January 20, 2021


The day before my father died, we swore in the legitimate President-elect of these United States. But my father, who could no longer tell his dreams from reality, said not to be fooled: he had probably dreamed that. Like he dreamed that my mother was lying beside him. He could feel her presence in the double bed he wasn’t in and he woke up but could not find her. Our home grew strange to him. That bed defined his world. He was restrained in a hospital and he didn’t know why. A quiet place, and they were taking good care of him, but he needed to leave. He needed to get home. Haldol didn’t help his restlessness. They moved to morphine.


Where in the space-time fabric

does the dream world lie?

Someone weave a map.



January 15, 2021


She had been asleep forty-five minutes when our father woke her again. He needed to know if something was wrong with one of the twins’ hands. “Dad!” my sister said. “I told you the boys are fine. Stop worrying!” And they were fine. But healthy need not always mean ten fingers and ten toes. Two months later, the rest of us learned that the hand of one twin was different. The twin who reached out in the dreamtime to his great grandfather, pointing the way.


A frost on the ground —

Two webbed fingers and a thumb

for his compass rose.



The line “A frost on the ground” is a taken from a translation of the death haiku of Katu Sushon (1905-1993) found here.

Earth Science


We sat at lab tables

not desks. Glass cabinets contained

the rock cycle: igneous, sedimentary,

metamorphic. Earth Science gave us

Mister Winky-Full-of-Twinkies.

How he could drone. 


And what was the point in experiments

to prove what was already known?

Our table’s 3D landscape model

based on a contour map

dumped mud all over the floor: epic erosion

underappreciated by Mister Winky.


My boredom was precise and punctual.

No matter how hard I steeled myself

against looking at the wall clock

it was always in the driver’s seat

hands at ten and two. The bell

would never ring. Now it won’t stop.


Paula Reed Nancarrow’s poems have appeared in FRIGG, Ibbetson Street Magazine, The Southern Review, and Nixes Mate, among other publications. She is a past winner of the Sixfold Poetry prize, has called six states home, and currently lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Find her online at


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