I don’t want a day when I never think of you,
but I would like more in the morning news
than another briefing on your absence.
I miss hearing my name as summons to a kiss.
If we can’t step into the same river twice,
with the past it’s not even once.
Memories are hot watches, knockoffs
pinned to the insides of my coat.
I open it and become a flasher.
At least the wind is wild today, the trees
in a frenzy. If I wore a wig it would be
long gone, snagged in the crook of a tree,
but good for containing something
that starts off fragile, then grows wings.
If you are a spirit now, can you hear me
or have you left our flesh too far behind?
Somehow I’ve landed at the shore
where late sun makes the sea grass glow,
and for a second I don’t want to hold you
or anything, not moonrise in the east
or sun gleam in the west, not the path
of watery light washing my feet.
Still, I can’t stop talking to you. Grief
is a heavy coat, dragging the ground.
But death is very cold, so I wear it.
Unknown, wind-blown, the night
requests your presence. The world burns
at the oven door of your blank page.
An offering moves from one hand
to another, just as in Christ’s time—
rewinding and grieving, rewinding
and grieving. Take a bite of the onion.
Do you know where you are?
Here is a box of ashes and a handshake.
The rest is your problem.
Far off, a kid’s high voice seesaws the wind,
then stops. Snowfall of bloom on the azaleas,
two small cardinals angled at the feeder—
the earth has tilted toward the sun and strikes
a perfect equilibrium for a day.
And I’m there myself, in my backyard, on
the sheer seam where soul and body breathe
in unison, sweetness sifting the noon air,
my shadow gathered at my feet, tucked
almost out of sight. Leaf-murmurs lullaby
the light. But then: the last breath of winter
lashes out: How can it be I have to die?
Banal, banal, I tell myself. And the word is
a knell astray among the lenten roses.
The door is always open, Epictetus
once whispered in my ear, when I had no
idea he was one of the great teachers.
A yard-sale find, that skinny book, a shadow
of mold winging its back cover, that one
golden word that turned out to be a name
embossed on its spine. Why cling on
to pain, the ancient, gentle voice explained,
when the way out was left wide for me
to leave sorrow behind at any time.
A balm, that thought, to my unhappy youth,
a badly needed potion, a freeing truth.
But then, when was it door began to rhyme
with ash? With wind? With—
After my parents fought, my mother would put on her Johnny Mathis records, loud, as if she was her teenage daughters acting out. My father would go to the finished basement and turn on the TV though I have no idea how he could hear it or if he was even listening. My mother would lie on the living room couch, her furious tears making wet cloud-shapes on the throw pillows.
My sister and I were afraid to say anything to either of them and slipped outside. We could still hear Johnny Mathis from the lawn—Chances are, he’d be singing, then the skip, skip, skip before my mother turned the album over. Kids would whirr by on their bikes. We’d hear a lawnmower up the street, a tweeting bird, Mr. Dupont’s growling German shepherd. The deaf boy across the street would scream warped words at his sister who was ashamed of him.
Our parents would eventually call us in for dinner. They gave each other the silent treatment. All my sister and I could hear was the wrench of ice cubes pulled from their metal tray, water from the faucet, the clank of a serving spoon in a bowl of mashed potatoes, and chewing, chewing, more chewing.