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Outside my study window, the morning sun casts patterns of pointed leaves upon those beneath them and prickle-shades the trunks of the summer snowflake viburnum. In one of the niches still broods the cardinal in her twiggy nest. It’s been days of stillness, at times, her feathered head moving from side to side with the regularity of an oscillator. With her, I watch and wait for new life.

Whoops! Something shakes one of the trunks, its intrusion feels violent. Among the leaves and spent blossoms, a gray squirrel flickers up the trunk toward the nest. Within the cover of more leaves blur two forms: the squirrel and the cardinal, jettisoned into the air and disappear—no evidence of their remains on the mulched mound beneath the shrub.

I wait for I know not what.

In the next moment, reappears the cardinal flying toward the shrub, until repositioning herself atop the nest. The quiet resumes.

A sugar maple flames above me. Slippery winds nudge a single leaf from its mooring:

Like a gymnast, it flips, sworls, twists, down, down, down. Then cartwheels upon glistening brick walk until flattened. Musk steams from the landing.

Prostrate, the leaf opens to the inevitable: Its ocher stem dried like a useless umbilical cord; hairy veins, empty of nutrients. Stillness gawks at the sacrifice.

Yet such decay rejuvenates the cycle. Again, spring’s leafing will flicker beneath sun-drenched skies.

Mildred, 83 years old, loner in dusty bungalow. From her heart spewed nastiness: “I put my daughter-in-law’s picture in the shit house where she belongs!” Each defecation renewed the enmity. Twinkle Toes, her double-footed cat, fondled her flip-flops.

Ann, 84 years old, born in the projects. Years of scrubbing dulled yearnings. The shock in the mirror: “My hair is white!” Intruder-killer infected her lungs.

Sarah, 85 years old, Scottish spinster in ground floor apartment. Hilarious storyteller. Shock of white hair matched the wildness in her eyes. Menial work around city neighborhoods toughened her feet. Ulcerated now, they restrict her movements from bed to commode to chair. Friends still knock on her door.

Juanita, 74 years old, matriarch in son’s bedroom, frozen in recesses of atrophied brain.

Swollen eyes resembled the sorrowing mother. G-tube feedings ballooned her dark frame propped upon pillows. Her extended family watched television.

Marie, 77 years old, chameleon in duplex. Spent, she had lived within the will of her mate. Like a flitting moth, she sought rest, but there was none. Catalepsy crippled her body-soul, listing to the right.

Vivian, 61 years old, victim in handicapped apartment. Mousy hair pulled from temples spooked hooded eyes. Safety-pinned sweaters warmed her stone-heart. Soul illness infected her joints, precipitated seizures. She sat in her chair.

Mildred-Ann-Sarah-Juanita-Marie-Vivian, Home Care Patients I’ve known from the 1990s, limped through end time, the dross of their spent lives purified within God’s emptiness, encircling them with blessing.

I pray the same for myself.

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