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 If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.
Into the big enamel tub half-filled with water which I had made just right, I lowered the childish skeleton she had become.
Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed her belly and her chest, the sorry ruin of her flanks and the frayed gray cloud between her legs.
Some nights, sitting by her bed book open in my lap while I listened to the air move thickly in and out of her dark lungs, my mind filled up with praise as lush as music, amazed at the symmetry and luck that would offer me the chance to pay my heavy debt of punishment and love with love and punishment.
And once I held her dripping wet in the uncomfortable air between the wheelchair and the tub, until she begged me like a child to stop, an act of cruelty which we both understood was the ancient irresistible rejoicing of power over weakness.
If you are lucky in this life, you will get to raise the spoon of pristine, frosty ice cream to the trusting creature mouth of your old enemy because the tastebuds at least are not broken because there is a bond between you and sweet is sweet in any language.

Poem by Tony Hoagland
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