When my grandfather came back
from his swim, battered this time
by the treacherous currents, the rocks
jutting out of the water like knives,
my sister and I sidled into his room
thinking the house too quiet
and saw him like a hurt beast
standing by his bed, naked, wet.
My grandmother was kneeling, toweling his calves,
my mother was mixing a poultice.
“Look at his bruises,” my sister was whispering,
“and the veins like swollen rivers.”
We kept inching toward him
while my grandmother daubed him with cream
and wound him in a bedsheet
and made him odder than any dream of him.
“Children,” she said turning toward us,
“let him sleep, this is your grandfather.”
We hurried away, having said
not a word to him, nor he to us,
though our eyes had never left his body
and we ached to touch him, brush
our fingertips along the webs of cuts
and discolorations in his pale skin.
All day we wished he would somehow rise
like a true ghost, the sheet ruffling in the drafts;
“Grandfather,” we whispered at his closed door,
“come to us, bring us your stories,”
but when the last lights were put out that night
and the dark spread about us like a purple bruise
we wished we had never wished what we had,
every waft of wind had a rustle to it
and the sound of water was deep in our ears
and by morning, he had become for us
in his shut room the ghostliest of imaginings,
and keeping our distance, we waited
only for his door to suddenly swing forth
and reveal him standing either healed
and smiling and unstrange, or what seemed
likelier to us now, about to change our lives.