Mildred, 83 years old, loner, in dusty bungalow on Hampton Avenue.

Jagged soul lisps for breath in faded housecoat.

Nastiness spews from her flint heart:

“I put my daughter-in-law’s picture in the shit house where she belongs!”

With each defecation, the enmity renewed.

Twinkle Toes, her double-footed cat, keeps her distance.

Ann, 84 years old, born, proper, in St. Louis Hills.

Predictable Sunday dinners starved her family.

Years of laundry work eviscerated soul-yearnings.

The surprise in the mirror: “My hair is white!”

Intruder-killer infects her lungs.

Yet she remains proper.

Juanita, 74 years old, matriarch in son’s bedroom, Northland Avenue, St. Louis.

Frozen in recesses of atrophied brain.

Swollen eyes resemble those of the sorrowing mother.

An occasional drool breaks the silence.

G-tube feedings balloon her dark frame propped upon pillows.

Arms splinted to prevent further crippling.

The extended family watches television.

Marie, 77 years old, chameleon, in duplex, Chippewa Street.

A shadow woman, spent, living within the will of her mate.

Like a flitting moth, she seeks rest, but there is none.

Cataplexy cripples her body-soul, listing to the right.

She carries her soul shell into her dying.

Vivian, 61 years old, victim, in St. Raymond’s Apartments.

Mousy hair spooks hooded eyes.

Safety-pinned sweaters warm her frigid heart, broken by:

her god with thorn-pierced heart,

his mother with saber heart,

her idol priest with heart failure.

Life-long beatings acculturated her to pain.

Soul illness infects her joints, precipitates seizures.

She sits in her chair.

Mildred-Ann-Juanita-Marie-Vivian limp toward end time.

Lethargy constricts their energies.

No distractions dull the pain.

In their emptiness, the emptiness of God encircles them with blessing.

* Hospice patients I have known.