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April 15, 2024

An Old Man's Final Wish

By Terry Petersen

Along a back window
at a huge family gathering
at a rented hall
the oldest uncle sat in his wheelchair
with the youngest child curled in his lap.

In the center
long tables covered with
gold, red, or blue
painted signs demanded isolation.
They claimed truth, whole
perfect, beyond criticism.

The families divided the space
into zones, while ugly words
stung the air --
How can you say that?
I can't forgive you . . .
You are a fool.

While the family members argued,
the elderly gentleman and the tiny girl
met with approving eyes,
a twining of fingers, a gesture, a smile.

He celebrated the exquisite fit of
her name to her personality,
despite the hardened hearts
that fed her and his inabilities
to respond beyond a crooked grin
and speech delayed by multiple strokes
and advanced age.

She giggled, tugging gently
at the sagging folds in his face.
Then, as the toddler grew tired
and slept in his arms,
the man's wife, gone twenty years,
appeared, clothed in soft light.

She called to him.

Before he allowed his spirit
to separate from his body,
he whispered his final wish
into the girl's small ear.

The buffet opened as
the child's mother noticed
her waking in the lap
of the dead man.

Unwilling to touch cold flesh,
several family members
abandoned their divisions,
at least for that moment,
and called to the girl,

Please, Hope, come to us.

They didn't know they were
echoing the gentle man's
deepest desire.

Originally appeared in For a Better World 2013.

Article © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-11-30
Image(s) © Terry Petersen. All rights reserved.
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