House on the Lake

By Liz Robbins

Featured Image: Greenwood Lake by Jasper Francis Cropsey 1875

When Dad was dying, everyone wanted
to take care of him, no one
wanted to.

We sent flowered cards, everyone wanted
the easy parts.

His cancer was a quiet purple flower
that grew too familiar when it took
over the bed.

The purple wanted the easy parts,
the purple wanted the hard parts, the liver.

We all went one way, then another.
We were the roots, we scattered.

We couldn’t compete, that’s all we could
do. We wanted to sit around and stare
at the clouded sky and drink.

His IV was clear, the only thing.

He had ten months, ten years.

We walked around Lily-Pad Lake,
where hordes of trout wriggled
to breathe.

We wanted to rub his feet, he didn’t
want us to. He wanted a ride to the clinic,
we didn’t want to go.

He did everything right, we did nothing.
We did nothing wrong, he did everything.

The flower was a new member, the kid
whose needs came first,
around whom we spoke in low tones.

Buds pressed up from under
his skin, from every conversation, dirt and
spores, torrents and sprouting.

Each day, the flower asked, What’ve you done
good lately?

Each morning, Dad woke at five, blinking
in the dark, thinking. He didn’t want
to get up.

We all wanted to go check on him, we all
wanted to leave him alone.

He raged, dreaming. He dozed, dreaming.

Again, the air got colder and again
the Giants choked. TV from distant rooms,
Dad’s cough.

We held our breath, tried to imagine.
We were nowhere close
to picking out coffins.

Each day we got closer. Someone
remembered Dad cheering Don’s tennis
match, and we smiled too

Each day, we knew. The sun, peeping out
at the end of a dark-cloud

The dog jumped in the bed, disrupted
our covers.

We knew we knew nothing. We knew we did
and didn’t want to be

in the dark
woods, our walls soft and yellow.

Dad, his face still
needing to be kissed:

in the woods, inside the last
house, with its yard of purple satin.

Liz Robbins’ poems have appeared recently in Barrow Street, Cimarron Review, Harpur Palate, Margie, Puerto del Sol, Rattle, and storySouth, among others. Poems from her first book, Hope, As the World Is a Scorpion Fish (Backwaters Press), have been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily. She is an assistant professor of English and creative writing at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. Her website can be reached at

Originally published in NOR 7

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