The Long Take: after Atonement

Matty Layne Glasgow


MOTHER, you lie on the hospital bed the nurse brought into our home when you could no longer rise. The midmorning sun veils your bedroom with a jaundiced filter. Yellow, pale, & ever-fading—the last color you will know. I watch the rise & fall of your chest, listen to you exhale: the harsh fragility, the rattle of breath from your lungs, its slow release through your throat. My eyes are the camera, unblinking as they pan over your body, now eroded like the beaches of Dunkirk—an evacuation of what life remains as we sit in the theater, our eyes fixed on the screen as Robbie makes his final march past slaughtered stallions, ash & smoke whispering around the distant ferris wheel. What remains of that beach knows only death, & it fills the screen before us. The camera cannot cut away. It follows the devastation: the men who cry like boys, the boys who die like men. I see your crusted mouth twitch. You must hear those brave boys singing on the shore: Take from our souls the strain and stress. Mother, listen, go toward their voices. And let our ordered lives confess. My eyes do not look away; I do not cut to the flowers littering your bedroom with sympathy. The beauty of thy peace. I do not cut to the pictures on your nightstand: you with FATHER, you with your two BOYS. The beauty of thy peace. Because that woman is a stranger to me now. Your body is the beach, but you are the song rattling within me. My eyes on your yellow-fleshed limbs, on your parched, open lips, on the sunken stillness of your emerald eyes, on your chest that does not rise.