This is, as usual, a draft. I wasn't feeling poetry tonight, so for now this sits in prose.
I found myself picturing you as we sat at my mother's table. Your daughters laughed and shared stories in a dimly-lit kitchen, the summer wind early in its sweep through the window. There was an empty chair at the table--not purposefully vacant, but as I looked between the women you walked into the world I could nearly see you. Aged nearly 20 years from when my child-eyes last saw you, quieted by the loss of another wife, but comfortably at rest at the head of the table, and a wink as our eyes caught. I found myself picturing a different world, where you weren't smoking in the hospital room and your hair didn't need to rebloom a rich brown when the treatments were done.
You wouldn't have appreciated the store-bought wine, but there was too much food for the four of us, so elements of you remain even at a casual meal. Your old phrases slip easily into conversation, a vernacular both natural and acknowledged. I cannot stitch the picture complete--my pieces of you are too thin, and I don't have enough of the restorer in me to maintain integrity. Between the panels of memory I sketch daydream and imagining, glazing it over so that in the convenient candlelight of the table you seem almost fully there.
You have lost some weight--from the disease or age?--but still take up more than your physical space. Even silent, you occupy the conversation, each relation feeling more than seeing the smile, the raised brow. And it is your judgment--the pushed-back chair, the effortless break--that signals the rest of us to rise, clearing the ends of sentences with our dishes. And here is where my restoration glares in the light, shows itself as falsity, because I do not know how this ends. I have not known a grandfather save as a child knows him, and the motions I assume--a small laugh, a kiss on the cheek, a squeeze of the arm--are too fabricated and the vision fades. I try to turn it back, but what spell I'd cast is lost.
As I have sat picturing, this original meal has broken, a signal I did not catch, and my uncle leans in a pushed-back chair--an effortless break. The world has pushed on from you, and I did not notice until now. A child mourns over things differently--I cried then, but not for you.
I raise my glass toward your chair--it is yours, I realize, and always has been--and smile for you. It is as much as I can offer--a kiss on the cheek, a squeeze of the arm?--but I find myself answered in the stillness as you see it for all that it is.