Richard Allen Taylor

I have nothing clever or catchy to say about this dying,
no name to give it. I can say leukemia. I can say acute.
I can say she was sick for three years. Half that time,
in the hospital. Several months of remission (a good
name, but it didn’t stick).

In, to treat infections. Out, to continue IVs at home,
bags suspended from a chandelier in the dining room.
Infections made possible by chemotherapy. Common germs
made lethal. They’re everywhere,
the doctor said. Doorknobs, tabletops. Mud puddles. Shoes.

Chemotherapy kills the immune system. Brave, brave Julie.
She chose to continue knowing it was her best and worst
chance to live. Now I stand at her bedside, hold her hand.
She’s asleep, or unconscious, I’m not sure which.
Her brothers and sisters stand with me, surround

the bed. All of us wear light blue surgical masks.
Julie’s mouth gapes open to accommodate a breathing tube.
Her gums have loosened their hold on her lower front teeth.
They collapse into a circular formation resembling
a half dozen pencils wrapped by a rubber band.

I ask the doctor, Did the chemo do that to her teeth?
The doctor nods, sad-eyed, silent behind her mask.
She asks for my permission to disconnect the life support.
I say yes, then look back at Julie. Her breathing has stopped.
I will always wonder if she heard me.