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"Hospice Conference" and "The Me-Bomb" by Jesse Hilson


Remember second grade

on the field for gym

and you saw your mother’s car drive by

on Brown Street?

She was running an errand,

but the thought that she was in a place

you were not prepared to see her

made you feel like you would never see her again?

So you did the worst thing possible,

you broke away from kickball

and ran crying

to the chain link fence

after her receding car which turned a corner

and disappeared

and a teacher had to restrain you

and make you collect yourself on the concrete steps.

You don’t know how this non-encounter

could possibly end

or help but erase the feeling

you’d have later when you got off the bus

played for an hour

then she came home from her job at the hospital

still herself in the L-shaped kitchen

still a cloud of maternal molecules.

Now at the four-star hotel where you work,

in the wing where all the conference rooms are,

you wonder if you might see her again,

thinking it’s possible you might.

These adult days it never gets clarified,

the moments the family will all see each other again.

Somehow the thought of her—

not necessarily seeing her

or speaking about her with other hospice nurses

in attendance at the conference,

possibly co-workers—

makes you want to transcend

the typical corner-cutting you do

with these conferences you’ve come to hate.

Today you bring extra ice water and coffee,

check the microphone’s batteries twice.

You search in the hallway for some outlet

to plug in the lamp for more light.

Today you can’t turn away a single person,

not a single soul.

But there are close to a hundred nurses,

her same age,

hers might be one in that long wave of women’s faces

coming in from the dining room.

They have the whiff of the afterlife on them,

a little daffy, but they are full of some wisdom

of the life-force no other hotel staff seems to recognize.

Halfway through the hospice conference

you get a glimpse of what it all means.

About ushering souls to their next destination,

being that person standing still and pointing

“that way” while a torrent of souls pours

down a never-ending dimly lit corridor.

If heaven has job openings,

this is the one you want.

Reading the puzzled faces of new arrivals,

approaching them: “Can I help you?”

“I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go.”

“Which group are you with?”

This is part of the crippling significance,

the gnosticism you see,

the profound machinery

behind the mundane curtain.

Flimsy evidence of God

but in your spirit’s secret court

it seems the smoking gun.



Here’s the stolen hospital scrubs I wore

To her C-section.

I never took them off, I had them on

The rest of my life,

And no one seemed to notice.

The sentimental kleptomania was there

At her first breath.

“What a glue-pot I have acquired in you!”

Paraphrasing Byron at his daughter’s birth.

“No idea that job and family

Would extract such life-force from me.”

Paraphrasing someone at the give-up point.

The me-bomb was set off by a triggering device

I left on the coffee table for anybody to stumble upon.

I have had to shield my daughter

From my character arc.

I wonder, when we are tranquil.

And observe our tiny daughter play

Or select the next crayon by her system,

Will I fear her? Will I one day

Never have liked her?


In the backseat, she’s humiliated, furious

She made all those mistakes at the concert.

Although her xylophone just got lost

Among the din of other students.

There’s no way anyone would have noticed.

But she’s convinced she was awful. Maybe.

And I’m in the driver’s seat, bald and paunchy,

In a sad unhip jacket, mulling over whether

To leap into this latest hero-sized gap.

I just have to speak the right enzyme of words

To act on adolescent substrate,

Never moving from behind the wheel.

Or, do the dictates of dad drama make me pull her out

And hug her standing in the flood

Of other dads’ departing headlights.

(At age six she hid from the TV in the dark,

Whimpering, “Hold Me For The Shere Khan Parts!”)

The high school parking lot in as a frozen still-point,

The soundtrack shatters and crests

Like it did in those John Hughes movies

I rented twenty years ago.

I studied the bored Chicago ‘burbs, the white teen angst.

I was so taken with the smart-aleck oddball drummer girl.

She cried and pined and got the earrings in the end.

Everything past and future with my daughter

Is seared and flared

In an instantaneous flash of memory paper.

Three times this weeping girl rescued me

From myself.

And when I embrace her,

I’m playing tug of war with time.

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