Serenity Room

By Linda Hillringhouse

Featured art by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

There are five recliners in a circle,
each with a spongy blanket.
The lights have been dimmed,
but an aide has left behind her walkie-talkie
and it sounds like it’s ready to lift off.
My mother is in one recliner, I’m in another,
an easy way to spend time now that she’s afraid
of the color red and distrusts windows
as if the glass weren’t there and the fingers
of the dwarf palmetto would reach in
and pull her down into its dark center
to cut out the last cluster of syllables
huddled beneath her tongue.

I look over to see if she’s sleeping
and her eyes are open as though
she’s forgotten to close them. Maybe
she’s on some dusky street where half-drawn
figures drift and sounds almost blossom
into meaning. Maybe she opens a door
and her aunts from Brooklyn are there
and clutch her to their mountainous breasts
where she could stay forever.

She tries to inch out of the recliner but an aide
intercedes with a cup of apple juice
which my mother examines closely
for poison and studies her hand as if it’s
screwed to her wrist. Then she brings the cup
to her lips as if it’s the last thing left
from the world when she was Shirley
and carried keys, lipstick, cash.

And I hope that the cold, sweet liquid
brings a moment’s pleasure, but how can it be
that it comes to this, that at the end you get
thrown in the ring for one more brutal round
without enough stamina to put on your shoes
or enough strength to say Thank you or Go to hell.


Linda Hillringhouse was a first-place winner of the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award (2014) and second-place winner of Nimrod’s Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry (2012). Her work has appeared in Lips, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from the Macdowell Colony, Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her book of poetry, The Things I Didn’t Know to Wish For, was published by NYQ Press in May, 2020.

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